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    van Pelt: The Van Pelt Report

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    1. The purpose of this report

    This report is prepared for the purposes of assisting the Court in providing an expert opinion on the issue of David Irving’s statements about Auschwitz, its gas chambers and incineration facilities, and its role in the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Problem, pursuant to the Order of Master Trench dated 15 December 1998 directing that each party may adduce expert evidence to address relevant issues in the proceedings

    2. My qualifications and expertise

    I am a Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada. I have been teaching at this university since 1987, when I was appointed as Assistant Professor of Architecture after an open and international search. In 1991, after a thorough internal and external peer review of the quality of my teaching and scholarship, I was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor. In 1996, after a thorough internal and external peer review of the quality of my scholarship, I was promoted to Full Professor.

    I have earned all the usual academic qualifications necessary for a senior academic position at a major research university. I hold a Doctorate in the History of Ideas,1 the Dutch equivalent of a Master’s degree in the History of Architecture,2 and the Dutch equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Archeology and the History of Art3–all from the University of Leiden, Leiden, The Netherlands. I am the recipient of a major, internationally recognized academic award, given on the basis of scholarship.4

    I am the author or co-author of five academic books, one of which (critically acclaimed and translated into two other languages) directly deals with the history of Auschwitz,5 and another which deals with the historiographical implications of the history of Auschwitz.6 I have also contributed chapters in thirteen other academic books, three of which deal with Auschwitz7 and one with the Holocaust.8 I am the (co-) author of eleven peer-refereed articles in journals and conference anthologies, four of which deal with Auschwitz,9 and eighteen non-refereed articles, five of which deal with Auschwitz.10 My work on Auschwitz has been the subject of one BBC documentary,11 and was featured in one movie.12 It has been discussed in articles and has been made the object of historiographical discussion and even extended philosophical meditation.13 I have spoken about Auschwitz at 20 academic conferences,14 and more than 50 universities, colleges, academies, research libraries and other institutions of (higher)learning in North America, Europe and Israel.15 In all of these contributions to our knowledge of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, both written and spoken, I have substantiated all my claims and conclusions with solid empirical evidence.

    My book on Auschwitz has been given two major awards,16 and has been positively reviewed by well-known historians in many of the leading newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals in North America and Europe.17

    I am the Director of the collaborative that was commissioned by several Jewish organizations to produce a Master Plan for the future preservation and management of Auschwitz.18

    I began to study the history of Auschwitz in a more general way in 1987, and I have undertaken systematic primary research into the history of Auschwitz since 1989. Since that year, I have visited Auschwitz for research purposes almost yearly, staying for longer or shorter times.

    3. Material instructions

    This report has been prepared on the instructions of Davenport Lyons and Mishcon de Reya, the First and Second Defendants solicitors respectively (my “Instructing Solicitors”). I received both written and oral instructions which consisted of a conversation held at the offices of Mishcon de Reya on 24 February, 1998, a letter received from Mishcon de Reya dated June 9, 1998, and a letter received from Davenport Lyons dated August 21, 1998.

    In the letter from Mishcon de Reya,my task was described as follows:

    You will be submitting a report on the gas chambers and exterminations at Auschwitz which will show that what Irving says about the camps in this respect is untrue.19

    The contract for my work on the matter, which took the form of a letter from Davenport Lyons dated August 21, 1998, stated that there were five points of contention, two of which–(i) and (ii)– directly concern my own expertise: The Defendants seek to justify the following:–

    (i) That Irving has on numerous occasions denied the Holocaust -ie the systematic extermination of Europe’s Jewish population by the Nazis -and denied that gas chambers were used by the Nazis as a means of carrying out that extermination;

    (ii) That he holds extremist views and has allied himself with others who do so, including individuals such as Dr Robert Faurisson,and Ernst Zündel;

    After having established that the “[t]he burden of proof is on the defendants,” the letter continued as follows:

    We would like to engage you to be one of the Defendants’ team of experts. Your role will be to provide a written report on the aspect(s) of the case within your area of expertise as instructed by us. You will obviously liaise with Richard Evans who is co-ordinating the expert team.

    You are specifically asked to provide a report in relation to the true numbers of Jews killed by gassing at Auschwitz and elsewhere, demonstrating that these numbers have been falsified by Irving and that Irving’s denial of mass gassings and of the existence of gassing facilities at Auschwitz and elsewhere is a falsification or distortion of history.Also to show that the supposed “scientific” evidence presented by Irving is false or misleading.20

    I accepted this description of my task by countersigning the two copies of the letter, returning one to Davenport Lyons.

    This report addresses the issues raised in the letters of Mishcon de R particularly addresses the core issues under dispute listed under sections 1 and 2 of the “Defence of the Second Defendant,” and in Irving’s “Reply to Defence of Second Defendant.” It will demonstrate that there were gas chambers in Auschwitz, that there is wartime archival evidence for this, that the silence in the SS ciphers about the gassings does not mean they did not take place,and that the absence of “one million cadavers …produced by killing operations at Auschwitz” does not point at the absence of the crime–as Irving argues in his “Reply to Defence of Second Defendant”–but to the efficiency of the crematoria.

    4. Relevant documentation in the action

    I have been given access to the following documents which have come into the Defendants’ possession in the course of this litigation or have been created for the purposes of this litigation:

    1. The pleadings:
      1. the Statement of Claim served on 5 September 1996;
      2. the Defences of the First and Second Defendants served on the 12 February and 18 April 1997 respectively;
      3. the Reply to both Defences served on the 19 April 1997.
    2. Documents disclosed by the Plaintiff pursuant to his discovery obligations: various documents from the Plaintiff’s various Lists of Documents as referred to in the footnotes to this report.

    5. Relevant material and opinions

    1. The relevant material on which I have based my report and conclusions is detailed in the footnotes to my report.
    2. The material relating to the history of Auschwitz is derived from various evidential historical sources which can be categorized as follows:
      1. contemporaneous documents such as letters, blueprints, minutes of meetings held in the Auschwitz Central Construction Office, budgets, contractors’ bids, requests for material allocations, invoices, and so on, which are found in the archive of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim, the Osobyi archive in Moscow (this collection has been microfilmed, and is available in microfilm format at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.), and the German Federal Archive in Koblenz;
      2. unpublished transcripts of the trials of (a)Rudolf Höss, held in Warsaw in 1947; (b)the Auschwitz architects Walther Dejaco and Fritz Ertl, held in Vienna in 1972;
      3. published transcripts of the trials of (a) Josef Kramer and others held in Lüneburg in 1945; (b) Hermann Goering and others held in Nuremberg in 1945 and 1946; (c) Adolf Eichmann held in Jerusalem in 1961; (d) Mulka and others held in Frankfurt in 1963, 1964 and 1965;
      4. contemporary newspaper articles, magazine articles and other publications reporting on the situation in the concentration camps;
      5. contemporary documents and reports,such as the Vrba-Wetzlar report or the transcripts of the Höss interrogations in Nuremberg, published after the war in edited collections;
      6. memoirs, such as the autobiography of Rudolf Höss, written and published after the war;
      7. academic historical studies published after the war.
    3. The material relating to Holocaust Denial in general, the Faurisson Affair, the Zündel Trial and the Leuchter Report is derived form various evidential historical sources which can be categorized as follows:
      1. contemporaneous documents such as letters that became available in Irving’s Further Discovery;
      2. unpublished transcripts of the trials of Ernst Zündel held in Toronto in 1985 and 1988;
      3. the published writings of Holocaust deniers like Paul Rassinier, Robert Faurisson, Arthur Butz, Thies Christophersen, Wilhelm Stäglich, and Fred Leuchter;
      4. contemporary newspaper articles, magazine articles and other publications reporting on Holocaust denial;
      5. published academic studies of Holocaust denial.
    4. The material relating to David Irving’s engagement with Auschwitz, the Holocaust, Holocaust Denial in general, the Zündel Trial, and the Leuchter report is derived from various evidential historical sources which can be categorized as follows:
      1. contemporaneous documents such as letters, audiotapes and videotapes that became available in Irving’s Further Discovery;
      2. unpublished transcripts of the trial of Ernst Zündel held in Toronto in 1988;
      3. the published writings of Irving;
      4. contemporary newspaper articles, magazine articles and other publications reporting on Irving;
      5. published academic studies of Holocaust denial.

    In my research, I have considered that there is a hierarchy of reliability in respect of these categories of sources which I have taken into account when preparing this report. The most important reliable source is contemporaneous documents and the published and unpublished trial transcripts. The reliability of the rest of the categories depends on the context in which they have been produced, organized or extracted. I have avoided any over reliance on one evidential source.

    I have taken into account the fact that archival records are invariably organized and structured in a particular way when they are first put together and are necessarily set up to serve a particular purpose. The reliability of oral evidence depends on their distance in time from the event they are recalling, their role in the particular event, the interests of the witness in giving his or her account of the event and of the interlocutor in recording the account. I know that historians may be predisposed to accept the information uncritically in order to show that they have made a new discovery,and have tried to consider the evidence in its context,having put aside all political or personal persuasions.21


    (In color): We are moving at a walking pace across a verdant landscape; a blue sky filled with fluffy clouds. [Narrator:] “A peaceful landscape …” Barbed wire nailed to high wooden posts. Then moving along another field; a cottage on the horizon; birds take wing. “An ordinary field with flights of crows, harvests, grass fires.” Moving along another fence, the wires severed and limp. “An ordinary road where cars and peasants and lovers pass.” Moving past abundant grass in bright sunlight. Two walls of wire appear, weeds growing high between them, a watchtower in the distance. “An ordinary village for vacationers–with a marketplace and a steeple–can lead all too easily to a concentration camp.” A camp today, surrounded by wires and posts cutting across the field. “Struthof, Oranienburg, Auschwitz, Neuengamme, Belsen, Ravensbruck and Dachau were names like any others on maps and in guidebooks.” Still moving, a closer view of the maze of wires, with weeds growing around the fence posts. “The blood has dried, the tongues are silent. The blocks are visited only by a camera. Weeds have grown where the prisoners used to walk. No footstep is heard but our own.” Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol, Night and Fog22

    The following pages aim to assist the Court in gaining insight in the complex spectrum of issues embodied in the proper name “Auschwitz,” and the nouns “Holocaust,” and “Holocaust Denial,” and seek to establish the way David Irving has engaged this nexus, concentrating on the decade 1987 to 1997.23 The report attempts to provide material and a consideration of that material that can allow us to answer what I see to be the central issue at stake in the complaint of the plaintiff against the defendants where it concerns my own expertise. This can be summarized in the folowing 10 questions:

    1. Has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Auschwitz was equipped with homicidal gas chambers, and has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that these gas chambers were systematically used?
    2. Has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Auschwitz functioned between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1944 as an extermination camp for Jews?
    3. Has it been proven beyond reasonable doubt that most of the Jews who arrived in Auschwitz were murdered shortly after their arrival in the aforesaid gas chambers?
    4. Has it been established beyond reasonable doubt how many Jews were killed in the gas chambers upon arrival in Auschwitz, how many Jews were killed or died from the effect of incidental cruelty, general deprivation, exhaustion or disease whilst in the camp, and how many others died in the camp as the result of various causes?
    5. Did David John Cawdell Irving deny that Auschwitz had homicidal gas chambers and that these gas chambers were systematically used?
    6. Did David John Cawdell Irving deny that Auschwitz functioned between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1944 as an extermination camp for Jews?
    7. Did David John Cawdell Irving deny that most of the Jews who arrived in Auschwitz were murdered shortly after their arrival in the aforesaid gas chambers?
    8. Did David John Cawdell Irving deny, without having done any serious research in the matter, the results of studies into the number of people who died in Auschwitz done by responsible scholars?
    9. Did David John Cawdell Irving ally himself with well-known Holocaust deniers, including individuals such as Dr Robert Faurisson, and Ernst Zündel?
    10. Was David John Cawdell Irving, by the time Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust went to press, a Holocaust denier?

    The report seeks to contribute material that allows us to answer these questions. To that end, it is organized in five distinct parts.

    Part One, entitled “Concerning History,” seeks to introduce the reader to the most important elements that shape current knowledge of the Auschwitz extermination camp, and discuss the great complexity of the camp’s history and the way this occasionally creates confusion for the uninitiated and opportunity for those who seek to deny the Holocaust. In this section of the report, I will discuss why Auschwitz became the symbol of the Holocaust, and the attempts by modern scholarship to come to an assessment of the number of victims.

    Part Two, entitled “Concerning Evidence,” presents and reviews the blinding evidence of the use of the camp as a site for mass extermination as it became slowly available during the war as the result of reports by escaped inmates, as it was narrated in the eye-witness accounts by former Auschwitz inmates immediately after their liberation in other concentration camps, as it was confirmed in forensic investigations undertaken in 1945 and 1946, and as it was corroborated by confessions of leading German personnel employed at the camp during its years of operation. In this section of the report it will become clear that it is highly implausible that knowledge about Auschwitz was a war-time fabrication by British propagandists, as Irving has claimed. Instead it will be shown how our knowledge about Auschwitz emerged from a convergence of independent accounts, how it emerged cumulatively, in geometrical progression, acquiring an epistemological status located somewhere in the realm framed on the one hand by a judgement that knows a fact “beyond reasonable doubt,” and on the other hand by the always receding horizon that promises unqualified certainty. It will be shown that, in the words of John Wilkins, we may assert as “moral certainty” the statement that Auschwitz was an extermination camp where the Germans killed around one million people with the help of gas chambers, and where they incinerated their remains in crematoria ovens.24

    Part Three, entitled “Concerning Documents,” discusses the few surviving German documents, produced during the war, that confirm the use of Auschwitz as an extermination camp, and allow us to gain an insight into the course of development that changed an “ordinary” concentration camp designed to incarcerate (political)opponents into an extermination camp for a whole ethnic group. Only a few documents survived the general systematic destruction of evidence which took place as the Final Solution unfolded in Auschwitz, and which was completed with the burning of the archives of the Auschwitz Kommandantur in January 1945. Together, the first three parts will amply establish beyond reasonable doubt that Auschwitz was an extermination camp that claimed by means of purposefully designed crematoria equipped with gas chambers the deaths of at least a million people, most of whom were Jews.

    Part Four, entitled “Concerning Denial,” analyzes why Auschwitz became the focus of Holocaust denial, and reviews the most important aspects of the so-called “Faurisson Affair” which brought Holocaust denial into the public eye. It reviews the false dichotomy that forces everything that cannot be established as absolute truth into the rubbish-bin of manufactured falsehood, and refutes the hermeneutical and pseudo-scientific arguments created by various Holocaust deniers such as Paul Rassinier, Arthur Butz, Thies Christophersen, Wilhelm Stäglich, Fred Leuchter and, most importantly, Robert Faurisson to cast doubt or even reject the use of Auschwitz as an extermination site. Since the late 1980s, David Irving has made eclectic use of the trumpery produced by Rassinier, Faurisson, Butz, Christophersen, Stäglich and Leuchter. In his endorsement and subsequent publication of the Leuchter Report, Irving embraced the form of hard-core Holocaust denial developed, refined and propagated by Faurisson in the preceding years–a position that centered on the thesis that the gas chambers of Auschwitz did not work. Irving’s position regarding Auschwitz, in other words, is not one of his own invention. He very much adopted Faurisson’s line, and therefore one may legitimally claim that the resulting developments–the publicity Irving generated at the time of the trial when he was quoted as saying that as few as 100,000 Jews may have been killed,25 the account of Irving’s participation in the trial given in Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust and the present legal case–are to be considered aftershocks of the original Faurisson Affair.

    Part Five, entitled “Concerning Irving,” finally discusses the way David Irving has used his contacts with Holocaust deniers, and arguments derived from their writings, to further his own ends. It will demonstrate how in the early 1990s he became, as a publisher and a public speaker, the most effective evangelist of the negationist gospel wrought by Rassinier, Faurisson and others, and how he changed his tactics, but not his strategy, in the mid 1990s.

    The Conclusion will raise these questions again, and provide my answers.

    Whilst having been commissioned by the lawyers for the defendants, I have written this report salvo jure towards the plaintiff. I do not believe that questions of history belong in the courtroom, and have opposed in the past the prosecutions of Holocaust deniers like Zündel in Canada, Faurisson in France, and Irving in Germany. If Irving had been the defendant in this case, I would not have consented to give, under instructions of a prosecuting attorney, the questions raised by the nexus of “Auschwitz,” “Holocaust,” “Holocaust Denial,” and “David Irving” much thought.

    Yet while I set out without prejudice to the plaintiff or the defendants, I did and continue to have a commitment to those who cannot speak for themselves. With Edith Wyschogrod, I believe that the primary responsibility of the historian is not to the living–may they be right or wrong, good or evil –but to the dead. The historian must be the spokesman for those who have been silenced.

    The promise to convey the truth about the past presupposes that the presentation of that which was is always already implicated in a pre-discursive ethics before it is a conveying of facts. But this space prior to historical description is one in which signs disappear, of designing. The historian when bound by a responsibility toward the dead for whom she claims to speak becomes what I call the “heterological historian.” She assumes liability for the other, feels the pressure of an Ethics that is prior to her construal of the historical object. Responsibility thus interpreted is Janus-faced: its moral authority is expressed in its disinterestedness, but its psychological force is experienced as a sense of inescapable urgency. The heterological historian is driven, on the one hand, by an impassioned necrophilia which would bring to life the dead others for whom she speaks. On the other hand, as “objective,” she consciously or otherwise assumed responsibility for a dispassionate relation to events.26

    I believe that no historian can responsibly touch the world of Auschwitz without, in some way or another, becoming a “heterological historian.” I believe, too, that the first question one should ask about any historian’s attempt to deal with the history of an extermination camp–or for that matter any other atrocity–is the way he or she either accepts or rejects the ethical responsibility that comes with all history, but especially with the history of Auschwitz. No historian should ever play games with the past–especially not a past such as that marked by the word “Auschwitz,” a past marked by the massive betrayal of human solidarity.

    And so, while I wrote this report as an amicus curiae without prejudice for the defendant and against the plaintiff, I do declare my loyalty with the victims of Auschwitz and against their murderers. And with that, I declare my purpose to ensure that the aim of the men who conceived, constructed and operated the camp will not come to be–an aim sadly shared by most civilized people, because there is a fundamental collusion between the wish of the murderer to deny the crime, and the wish of the bystander not to bear witness. Alexander Donat, who ascribed his survival of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and his subsequent deportation to Maidanek Auschwitz to his sense of having been “charged with the sacred mission of carrying the Ghetto’s history through the flames and barbed wire until such time as I could hurl it into the face of the world,” recorded in his The Holocaust Kingdom how a fellow inmate in Maidanek, Dr Schipper, anticipated the difficulties the survivors would have in preserving their story. Even if some were to survive, and “write the history of this period of blood and tears–and I firmly believe we will—who will believe us? Nobody will want to believe us, because our disaster is the disaster of the entire civilized world…. We’ll have the thankless job of proving to a reluctant world that we are Abel, the murdered brother….”27

    The Italian survivor Primo Levi recorded in his The Drowned and the Saved the following admonishment that the SS guard enjoyed to give to the prisoners.

    However this war may end, we have won the war against you; none of you will be left to bear witness, but even if someone were to survive, the world will not believe him. There will be perhaps suspicions, discussions, research by historians, but there will be no certainties, because we will destroy the evidence together with you. And even if some proof should remain and some of you survive, people will say the events you describe are too monstrous to be believed: they will say that they are exaggerations of Allied propaganda and will believe us, who will deny everything, and not you. We will be the ones to dictate the history of the Lagers.28

    I believe that both Dr Schipper, Alexander Donat, and Primo Levi saw the central historiographical problem facing anyone who approaches the history of Auschwitz–historian, lawyer, survivor, bystander, perpetrator. And they touched on a metaphysical problem which, in the early 1980s, the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard subjected to his rigorous analysis.

    “It’s not for nothing that Auschwitz is called the ‘extermination camp’.” [Auschwitz physician Dr. Kremer in his diary entry of October 3,1942 ] Millions of human beings were exterminated there. Many of the means to prove the crime or its quantity were also exterminated.[….] What could be established by historical inquiry would be the quantity of the crime. But the documents necessary for the validation were themselves destroyed in quantity. That at least can be established.[….] But the silence imposed on knowledge does not impose the silence of forgetting, it imposes a feeling. Suppose that an earthquake destroys not only lives, buildings and objects but also the instruments used to measure earthquakes directly and indirectly. The impossibility of quantitatively measuring it does not prohibit, but rather inspires in the minds of the survivors the idea of a very great seismic force. The scholar claims to know nothing about it, but the common person has a complex feeling, the one aroused by the negative presentation of the indeterminate. Mutatis mutandis, the silence that the crime of Auschwitz imposes upon the historian is a sign for the common person.[….] The silence that surrounds the phrase, Auschwitz was the extermination camp is not a state of mind, it is the sign that something remains to be phrased which is not, something which is not determined. This sign affects a linking of phrases. The indetermination of meanings left in abeyance, the extermination of what would allow them to be determined, the shadow of negation hollowing out reality to the point of making it dissipate, in a word, the wrong done to the victims that condemns them to silence–it is this, and not a state of mind, which calls upon unknown phrases to link onto the name of Auschwitz.–The “revisionist” historians understand as applicable to this name only the cognitive rules for the establishment of historical reality and for the validation of its sense. If justice consisted solely in respecting these rules, and if history gave rise only to historical inquiry, they could not be accused of a denial of justice. In fact, they administer a justice in conformity with the rules and exert a positively instituted right. Having placed, moreover, themselves in the position of plaintiffs, who need not establish anything, they plead for the negative, they reject proofs, and that is certainly their right as the defense. But they are not worried by the scope of the very silence they use as an argument in their plea, by this does one recognize a wrong done to the sign that is this silence and to the phrases it invokes. They will say that history is not made of feelings, and that it is necessary to establish the facts. But, with Auschwitz, something new has happened in history (which can only be a sign and not a fact), which is that the facts, the testimonies which bore the traces of here’s and now’s the documents which indicated the sense or the senses of the facts, and the names, finally the possibility of various kinds of phrases whose conjunction makes reality, all this has been destroyed as much as possible.29

    Therefore Lyotard defined the task of the historian of Auschwitz as one that forced him or her not only to look at positive evidence, but also to venture forth “by lending his or her ear to what is not presentable under the rules of knowledge.” This, of course, applied to every fact of history, in which one moves from the evidential to what it implies. Only in the case of Auschwitz, this applies evenmore. And Lyotard concluded that “Auschwitz is the most real of realities in this respect.”30

    Given this context, the question of whether Holocaust Denial serves some current purpose seems to me irrelevant compared to the question if it serves the historic interest of the men who conceived of Auschwitz and who operated with the aim of destroying not only countless human beings, but also the evidence of their own acts–men like Himmler, Heydrich, and Höss.


    I Auschwitz.31

    The concentrationary universe shrivels away within itself. It still lives on in the world like a dead planet laden with corpses.

    Normal men do not know that everything is possible. Even if the evidence forces their intelligence to admit it, their muscles do not believe it. The concentrationees do know….They are set apart from the rest of the world by an experience impossible to communicate.

    David Rousset, The Other Kingdom. 32

    The great majority of people who know anything about the Second World War know that Auschwitz played a pivotal role in the National Socialist attempt to exterminate European Jewry–a deed which the perpetrators euphemistically called the Endlösung der Judenfrage (“Final Solution to the Jewish Question”), which the victims experienced as a Sho’ah or Hurban (“Catastrophe “), and which today is commonly known as the “Holocaust.” Since the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army (January 27,1945), forensic reports and historical studies, undertaken by many different people from different backgrounds living in different countries, have resulted in an increasingly detailed and sophisticated understanding of the origin, context and development of Auschwitz, and the way it assumed, as a result of often contingent circumstances and evolving ambitions, different and seemingly contrary functions during the almost 57 months of its existence.

    In my own work, based on careful study of the site, primary archival sources and secondary studies, conducted in collaboration with Debrah Dwork over a period of ten years, I have distinguished ten functions.33

    1. A concentration camp to serve local German security needs (1940-45).

      After the fall of Poland Hitler incorporated large areas of Poland into the Reich–amongst them the former Duchy of Auschwitz, located in eastern Upper Silesia. Hitler charged Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler with the task to Germanize the annexed territories by deporting the local Slav and Jewish populations to the occupied territories, the so-called Government General, and by moving in ethnic Germans from territories promised to the Soviet Union in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. As Reichskommissar für den Festigung deutschen Volkstums (Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of the German Nation), Himmler initially considered Auschwitz to be just one of the many towns in the annexed territories to be emptied of Poles and Jews and filled with Germans. But that formula did not work in Auschwitz. Due to the unique demographic and economic conditions in the German-annexed territory of eastern Upper Silesia, the Germans were unable to use mass-scale deportations of Poles into the adjacent Government General as a tool of repression. Some of the local Polish population could not be deported as they were employed in industry, and there were no skilled ethnic German workers to replace them. Therefore the SS created in 1940 a concentration camp in a suburb of Auschwitz to terrorize the Polish population of Upper Silesia’s industrial area.34

    2. A production site for gravel and sand (1940-44).

      Through its subsidiary DESt (German Earth and Stone Works), the SS had been heavily involved in the production of building materials since the late 1930s. Auschwitz, famous for the high quality gravel and sand from the Sola river, became one of the production sites of DESt.35

    3. An execution site for the Gestapo Summary Court in Kattowitz (1940-44).

      Providing security, killing and cremation facilities, Auschwitz became an execution site for Poles condemned by the Gestapo Summary Court in Kattowitz. Those executed in the camp on orders of the Gestapo Summary Court (3,000 in total) were not registered in the camp.36

    4. An experimental farm (1940-45).

      The area around Auschwitz became the focus of a massive ethnic cleansing operation in 1940. In order to service the incoming ethnic Germans with expertise and livestock and facilitate German agricultural development of the area, Himmler decided to create a large experimental farm in Auschwitz, using concentration camp labour. The camp claimed increasingly larger territories for this new function, and Himmler began to see that its future might be different from what he had originally envisioned. As a concentration camp it was assumed to be a temporary facility; as an agricultural estate it claimed permanence.37

    5. A forced labour pool for the construction of the IG Farben Plant at Monowitz (1941-45).

      Himmler slated Auschwitz to be the jewel in his crown of the German East. From a small compound surrounded by a double barbed-wire fence the camp had grown into a 15-square mile SS “Zone of Interests.” A huge influx of money and building materials was needed to develop this zone. In 1941 the camp became a pawn in Himmler’s attempt to attract the huge chemical giant to Auschwitz. The terms of the bargain were that the camp was to supply inmate labour to construct Farben’s synthetic rubber or Buna plant. In return, IG Farben was to finance and supply Himmler’s Germanization project in the area with building materials.38

    6. A forced labour pool for the construction of an IG Farben company town (1941-43).

      In order to convince IG Farben to move to Auschwitz in Upper Silesia and not to Rattwitz in Lower Silesia, Himmler promised the IG Farben management that he would initiate the construction of a new company town to house the employees. One hundred thousand Soviet prisoners-of-war were to be concentrated in Auschwitz to provide labour for that project of urban (re)construction. When in early 1942 the promised 100,000 Soviet prisoners-of-war did not materialize, Himmler decided that Jews were to take their place. He had by then assumed full authority over the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem, and could dispose of the Jews within German-controlled Europe as he pleased.39

    7. An execution site for certain categories of Soviet prisoners (1941-42).

      In the summer of 1941 the SS, in agreement with the German army, began to separate various categories of prisoners (communist cadres, Jews, and so on) from the prisoner-of-war camps housing Soviet soldiers. Auschwitz became one of the execution sites for these selected prisoners.40

    8. A selection and extermination site for Jews (1941/2-1944).

      When large-scale mass murder of Jews began in the summer and fall of 1941 in the wake of Operation Barbarossa, the SS in Auschwitz was still fully committed to Himmler’s project to develop the town and the region. It was when Göring directed Soviet prisoners of war from Auschwitz to German armament factories in January 1942 that Himmler began to consider the systematic use of the slowly emerging program for the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem within the context of what he called “The Auschwitz Project.” In early 1942 Himmler was still very much committed to make Auschwitz the centerpiece of his racial utopia. Only now this was not to be created on the backs of Soviet prisoners-of-war: Jewish slave labourers were to take their place. The Wannsee Conference gave Himmler (through Heydrich) the power he needed to negotiate with German and foreign civilian authorities for the transfer of Jews to his SS empire. The first transports of Jews fit for labour started to leave Slovakia for Auschwitz-Birkenau soon thereafter. When the Slovak government suggested that Himmler also take Jews unfit for labour in exchange for cash payments, Himmler decided to transform a peasant cottage in Birkenau into a gas chamber. Two months later, on July 4,1942, the first transports of Jews from Slovakia were submitted to selection. Those who could work were admitted to the camp Those who could not were killed in the peasant cottage, now known as Bunker I. At that time, selected categories of Jews were killed at Auschwitz, but the camp still had not become the epicentre of the Holocaust. The main purpose of Auschwitz, at this time, remained construction (of a plant, a city, and a region), and not destruction (of Jews). The systematic extermination of Jews was still an auxiliary function of the camp. Around mid July 1942, Himmler increased his authority as Reich Commissioner for the Consolidation of the German Nation, and acquired the responsibility for German settlement in Russia–an authority that he had coveted for more than a year. His view of Auschwitz and his plans for Auschwitz changed rapidly and dramatically. The “Auschwitz Project,” was no longer of interest to him–at least not for the duration of the war. The camp could be used to serve the systematic killing of Jews. In Auschwitz the by then well-established practice of mass-killing became policy. The camp architects got the order to design crematoria (4 and 5) equipped from the outset with homicidal gas chambers on 20 August, 1942.41 The two crematoria under development (2 and 3), were retro-actively fitted with homicidal gas chambers.42

    9. A forced labour pool for various German factories built in the surrounding region (1942-45).

      Following the precedent set by the agreement between the SS and IG Farben, the camp became a labour pool for other German factories, moved from the West to the Auschwitz area because of the threat of bombing. By 1944, the Stammlager Birkenau, and 27 satellite camps served these industries.43

    10. A transfer station for Jews selected for work in the Reich (1944).

      In the Spring of 1944 the Germans, faced with a great shortage of workers, reversed their earlier policy not to allow any Jews within the boundaries of the German Reich. Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz; those considered “unfit for work” were killed conforming to existing policy; many of those considered “fit for work” were temporarily held in transit until they could be transported to concentration camps in the Reich as slave labour.44

    These different functions show that Auschwitz was a very complex place with a tangled, complex, and confusing history. In a sense, it would be possible to write ten histories of Auschwitz: Auschwitz as a concentration camp for Poles, Auschwitz as a production site for gravel and sand, and so on. Each of these histories has their own political, institutional and financial context, each its own unique spatial impact on the site and temporal regularities, variabilities, and times of crisis and change. At times these histories run at cross-purposes, at times parallel without interfering with one another, at times they communicate, converge, and unite. As a result, a historian who desires to make a judgement about any aspect of the history of Auschwitz must take into account an often labyrinthine context, which is made even more difficult to negotiate because of intentional camouflage of certain aspects of the camp’s history during the war and the willful destruction of archival and other material evidence at the end of the war.

    The following example, using extensive quotes from the book on Auschwitz that Debrah Dwork and I co-authored, will suffice to show some the problems. As I have observed above, in early 1941,the promise to build a camp at Birkenau (Auschwitz II)served as a tool of negotiation between Himmler and the IG Farben management. At the time that IG Farben engineers identified Auschwitz as one of two possible sites for the establishment of a large synthetic rubber plant, Himmler had great financial and political interest in the area, and he believed that the influx of money and building materials, which would follow the establishment of the plant, would enable him to realize his own project to quickly Germanize the eastern part of Upper Silesia.

    The creation of the camp at Birkenau, which by the end of 1942 had become a major center for the annihilation of Europe’s Jews, was directly connected to Himmler’s program to transform Auschwitz into a paradigm of German settlement in the East. To convince IG Farben that Auschwitz was the place to go, Himmler had to do more than make promises. On his first visit to the camp in March 1941 he therefore proposed not only to increase the camp population to 30,000, but also to establish a huge satellite camp of 100,000 prisoners in the agricultural estate area. Himmler “discussed this,” Höss recalled, “and pointed out the approximate area that he wanted me to use.” If Höss was surprised, the provincial authorities were chagrined. Upper Silesia was poor in water and they had identified the wetlands around Birkenau as a major water supply. Furthermore, they realized immediately that 100,000 prisoners would create a massive sewage problem. “Himmler just smiled and disposed of their objections saying, ‘Gentlemen, this project will be completed; my reasons for this are more important than your objections.'”

    Himmler’s visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau and his instructions to build what later became the site where more than one million Jews were killed was a carefully staged event to impress the directors of IG Farben. He had no intention of beginning construction right away–that order came more than six months later–but wanted to declare his commitment to the future of Auschwitz. By ordering the establishment of a 100,000-inmate camp Himmler had taken care of labour availability, which (as we have seen) was key to the development of the region. Furthermore, the precedent of using inmates for municipal projects had been established in December 1940 when the camp and the town had agreed that chain-gangs of prisoners would improve the dikes along the Vistula and the Sola, and the trajectory of the two rivers; a few months later crews were put to work at demolition sites in the town. Himmler’s gesture in Birkenau was to impress on the rest of the entourage that the camp would be able to service the town reconstruction project. All those present–IG Farben officials, Provincial Governor Fritz Bracht and other civic authorities, the SS liaison with IG Farben, Karl Wolff, and the SS head of agricultural affairs, Heinrich Vogel, as well as the camp officials–heard him, as did SS leaders a year later. The deployment of a massive army of slaves was a simple necessity in the cause of laying a stable foundation for a German future in the East, Himmler told his men. “If we do not create the bricks here, if we do not fill our camps with slaves–in this room I state these things precisely and clearly–with work slaves who will build our cities, our villages, and our farms, irrespective of losses, then, after a long war, we will not have the money to create settlements that will allow a truly Germanic people to live with dignity and to take root within one generation.”45

    In early 1941 Himmler was not in a hurry to commit resources to the construction of the camp. When the IG Farben managers made the decision to establish the large synthetic rubber plant in Auschwitz, the immediate purpose of Birkenau, which was at that time a mere promise, had been fulfilled. Yet six months later IG Farben called Himmler’s bluff, and the latter was forced to make good on his promise given at March 1,1941. He negotiated the transfer of 100,000 Soviet prisoners-of-war from the army to his own SS, and ordered the construction of a camp in Birkenau to house them. Yet in the end only 10,000 of the 100,000 were to arrive in Auschwitz. By December 1941, the deal with the army fell apart.

    No more Soviet prisoners-of-war arrived. As it became increasingly clear that Operation Barbarossa had failed as a Blitzkrieg, Germany had to mobilize all its resources to continue the war. With more men called up for service and more demands on German industry–especially the armaments industry–even the Soviet prisoners-of-war became a resource too precious to be wasted. “The lack of workers is becoming an increasingly dangerous hindrance for the future of the German war and armament industry,” Field Marshal Keitel informed various military agencies and ministries on 31 October. “The Führer has now ordered that the labour of the Russian prisoners-of-war also should be utilized to a great extent by large-scale assignment for the requirements of the war industry.” A week later Reich Marshall Hermann Göring gained control over all prisoners-of-war and he promptly announced that the Russians would be primarily employed in mining, railroad maintenance, armaments industry, and agriculture. Building was given a low priority.

    Göring charged the Labour Allocation Division of the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan with the creation and execution of a policy to exploit the labour potential of the Soviets. On 8 January the Division issued a decree. All prisoners-of-war were assigned to the armaments industry and to a selected number of other activities such as agriculture, forestry and mining. None could be employed for construction work.

    The decree of January 8 brought an end to Himmler’s plan to amass a large Soviet labour force to build the town of Auschwitz. He had to look elsewhere, and his eye fell on the Jews.46

    Initially Birkenau was going to be filled with young and healthy Jews whom the SS considered to be fit for work. The SS decided to find these Jews in Slovakia, and in February 1942 the German and Slovak governments reached a deal that included the immediate deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Yet once the agreement was signed, the Slovaks realized that with the deportation of the young and healthy Jews they were left with those “not fit for work “: the very young and old people. Unwilling to feed and shelter them, the Slovaks once more approached the Germans, in the person of Adolf Eichmann. Initially Eichmann refused to discuss the matter, but quickly someone in the SS realized that it would be possible to make some money out of the deal by charging the Slovak government 500 Reichsmark per Jew to de deported (and the Slovaks would be allowed to recover this expense by expropriating the deportees belongings). Slovakia was close to Auschwitz, and if the camp was to be equipped with some discretely camouflaged extermination installation, the SS could take all the Slovak Jews, conduct a selection in Birkenau, admit those who could work, and kill the rest in an adjacent forest.

    The Germans had a few practical problems to work out. As the Slovak Jews were to be brought to Birkenau and not to Auschwitz, and as killing them in crematorium 1 would interrupt the life of the main camp, they considered building an extermination installation close to the new satellite camp. [SS construction chief] Hans Kammler arrived in Auschwitz on Thursday 27 February to meet with [Kommandant] Höss and [camp architect] Bischoff. There are no minutes of this conference, but its content can be ascertained from a letter Bischoff wrote to Topf a week later. Kammler had decided to cancel their order for the back-up incinerators included in the Birkenau plan of 6 January, Bischoff explained. The large crematorium with five triple-muffle incinerators that had been designated for the main camp was to go to Birkenau instead. Obviously Kammler wanted construction to proceed quickly. Those furnaces had been ordered almost four months previously and he expected they would be available soon. Furthermore, the designs for the crematorium that was to house these incinerators had been both completed and approved. On paper, at least, everything was ready for the crematorium they had agreed upon the previous October. A blueprint of the prisoner-of-war camp shows that Kammler decided to locate the new crematorium in the north-western corner of Birkenau, adjacent to an abandoned cottage that had belonged to a Polish peasant named Wiechuja. The interior of this cottage, known as “the little red house,” was converted into two gas chambers within a few weeks…

    There is no doubt that Kammler’s visit led to the Germans’ reversal of their decision about the mass deportation of Slovak Jewry. Once Kammler had organized the construction of the crematorium in Birkenau, the Reich Security Main Office permitted the German Foreign office to negotiate seriously. On 3 March [Slovak Prime Minister]Tuka announced in the Slovak State Council that, pending certain financial arrangements, the Germans had agreed to take the remaining 70,000 Jews. The Germans were doing them a favour and were to be compensated at the rate of 500 marks for every Jew deported. For this sum, however, the Slovak government was guaranteed that “the Jews accepted as part of the de-Judaization of Slovakia will remain permanently in the Eastern territories and will not be offered any possibility of re-immigrating into Slovakia. “The state was free to seize Jewish property left behind.47

    With the creation of the gas chamber of “the little red house,” also known as “Bunker 1,” the mass murder of Jews mass became a fixture of life in Auschwitz, but it was not yet the camp’s primary purpose. It was, in a sense, what the Germans so aptly term a Verlegenheitslösung an emergency solution. Only later, when the construction of the town came to a halt and Birkenau lost its purpose as a labour pool for that project, did killing cease to be an auxiliary activity and became one of the main purposes of Birkenau. But even then it competed with other functions.

    Each changing use the SS had for Birkenau deposited its own archival and physical sediment, creating a superimposed set of historical layers which, in the end, were to be disturbed in the cataclysmic upheaval of the genocide that occurred at that site. To make matters worse, the speed with which the various deposits settled was not the same, so that the ultimate consequences of earlier events were to appear sometimes after the effects of later events had already become apparent. For example: the transformation of the little red house into a gas chamber only took a matter of days, but the design and construction of crematoria 2 and 3 took more than 18 months, and in this long period the function of Birkenau shifted and changed numerous times. Many of the intended purposes of these crematoria were obsolete even before the blueprints were completed.

    The historian of Auschwitz must not forget the Russian proverb that one cannot drive straight on a twisted lane. Anyone who seeks to make a contribution to our understanding of the history of Auschwitz must account for and contend with the historical complexity of the site. If, in the words of the historian Schleunes, the road to Auschwitz proved twisted, so did the road in Auschwitz. This implies that one should be very careful in assessing the evidence and the conclusions drawn on the basis of it. Irving, for example, has argued that “since documents have now been found in the Auschwitz files held in former Soviet archives indicating that Auschwitz prisoners were actually released to the outside world,” the camp was not an extermination camp because the documented release “seems incompatible with the character of a top-secret mass extermination centre.”48 Irving’s conclusion is the result of the combination of the following two syllogisms:

    Released prisoners are free to divulge information.
    Prisoners were released from Auschwitz.
    Therefore Auschwitz was not a top-secret place.

    Mass extermination is a top secret-operation.
    Auschwitz was not a top secret place.
    Therefore Auschwitz was not a top-secret mass extermination center

    Yet the syllogism is fallacious when applied to Auschwitz because the term Auschwitz covers a very manifold and complex reality. If Auschwitz had only been a (top-secret)mass extermination center, located in one place, such an argument may have been conclusive. Yet Auschwitz encompassed many different sites, and as an institution was engaged in many different functions, and furthermore functioned as a (top-secret)mass extermination center for only part of its history. If the released prisoners had included the so-called Sonderkommando who operated the crematoria, Irving would have a point. They did not. In fact, no Jews were ever included in the category of Erziehungshäftlinge or “re-education inmates,” the only prisoner category from which releases did occur.49 Most of the Sonderkommando were put to death after a few months on the job–to protect secrecy. The few who survived did so because they either escaped from the death march that concluded the camp’s history, or because, amidst the chaos of Germany’s collapse, they were able to merge (after the death march) in the general camp population in the receiving concentration camps in the West.50

    Given the dichotomy between the very complex nature and history of Auschwitz and the habit of many to consider the camp only as a “top-secret mass extermination center,” many people, including bona-fide historians, survivors, and not so bona-fide holocaust deniers, often commit the fallacy of composition: they reason from the properties of the part of Auschwitz that was engaged with mass extermination to the properties of Auschwitz as a whole. A favourite example of the negationists is the so-called swimming pool in Auschwitz I. They argue that the presence of a swimming pool, with three diving boards, shows that the camp was really a rather benign place, and therefore could not have been a center of extermination. They ignore that the swimming pool was built as a water reservoir for the purpose of firefighting (there were no hydrants in the camp), that the diving boards were added later, and that the pool was only accessible to SS men and certain privileged Aryan prisoners employed as inmate-funcionaries in the camp. The presence of the swimming pool does not say anything about the conditions for Jewish inmates in Auschwitz, and does not challenge the existence of an extermination program with its proper facilities in Auschwitz II.

    Auschwitz is a prime example of a place where, in the words of Alexander Pope, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” The labyrinthine history and the resulting intricacy of the evidence demands careful attention to both detail and circumstance. No Holocaust denier has ever come close to the level of historic professionalism that the study of Auschwitz demands. Least of all David Irving. Beyond that, of course, is another issue that transcends the simple issue of “professionalism.” It is the recognition that anyone who seeks to understand Auschwitz must do so with a sense of humility in face of the evidence and diffidence in face of our own inability to truly grasp the historical reality that was Auschwitz. As early as 1946 Hannah Arendt observed in a review of The Black Book: The Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People–an account of the Nazi destruction of European Jewry–that any attempt to write a history what a later generation was to define as “The Holocaust ” was to end in failure.

    The facts are: that six million Jews, six million human beings, were helplessly, and in most cases unsuspectingly, dragged to their deaths. The method employed was that of accumulated terror. First came calculated neglect, deprivation, and shame, when the weak in body died together with those strong and defiant enough to take their own lives. Second came outright starvation, combined with forced labor, when people died by the thousands but at different intervals of time, according to their stamina. Last came the death factories–and they all died together, the young and the old, the weak and the strong, the sick and the healthy: not as people, not as men and women, children and adults, boys and girls, not as good and bad, beautiful and ugly–but brought down to the lowest common denominator of organic life itself, plunged into the darkest and deepest abyss of primal equality, like cattle, like matter, like things that had neither body nor soul, nor even a physiognomy upon which death could stamp its seal.

    It is in this monstrous equality without fraternity or humanity–an equality in which cats and dogs could have shared–that we see, as though mirrored, the image of hell.

    Beyond the capacities of human comprehension is the deformed wickedness of those who established such equality. But equally deformed and beyond the reach of human justice is the innocence of those who died in this equality. The gas chamber was more than anybody could have possibly deserved, and in the face of it the worst criminal was as innocent as the new-born babe. Nor is the monstrousness of this innocence made any easier to bear such adages as “better to suffer ill than do ill. “What mattered was not so much that those whom an accident of birth condemned to death obeyed and functioned to the last moment as frictionlessly as those whom an accident of birth condemned to life (this is so well known, there is no use hiding it). Even beyond that was the fact that innocence and guilt were no longer products of human behavior; that no possible human crime could have fitted this punishment, no conceivable sin, this hell in which saint and sinner were equally degraded to the status of possible corpses. Once inside the death factories, everything became an accident completely beyond control of those who did the suffering and those who inflicted it. And in more than one case, those who inflicted thesuffering one day became the sufferers the next.

    Human history has known no story more difficult to tell. The monstrous equality in innocence that is its leitmotif destroys the very basis on which history is produced–which is, namely, our capacity to comprehend an event no matter how distant we are from it.51

    Thirty-five years later, philosophers were still grappling with the impossibility to grasp the world of the camps. “There is something in the nature of thought–its patient deliberateness and care for logical order–that is alien to the enormity of the death camps,” the late Arthur A. Cohen wrote in his short but magisterial The Tremendum: A Theological Interpretation of the Holocaust (1981).

    There is something no less in the reality of the death camps that denies the attentions of thought. Thinking and the death camps are incommensurable. The procedures of thought and the ways of knowing are confounded. It is to think the unthinkable–an enterprise that is not alone contradictory but hopeless–for thought entails as much as moral hope (that it may be triumphant, mastering its object, dissolving the difficulties, containing and elucidating the conundrum) as it is the investment of skill and dispassion in a methodic procedure.

    The death camps are a reality which, by their very nature, obliterate thought and the humane program of thinking. We are dealing, at the very outset, therefore, with something unmanageable and obdurate–a reality which exists, which is historically documented, which has specific beginnings and ends, located in time, the juncture of confluent influences which run from the beginnings of historical memory to a moment of consummating orgy, never to be forgotten, but painful to remember, a continuous scourge to memory and the future of memory and yet something which, whenever addressed, collapses into tears, passions, rage. The death camps are unthinkable, but not unfelt. They constitute a traumatic event and, like all decisive trauma, they are suppressed but omnipresent, unrecognized but tyrannic, silted over by forgetfulness but never obliterated.52

    Cohen’s insight must, in the end, apply to anyone who has seriously tried to understand the Holocaust in general, or Auschwitz in particular. Elie Wiesel recorded that, after the end of the Eichmann Trial, he met by chance one of the judges, a “wise and lucid man, of uncompromising character.”

    He refused to discuss the technical or legal aspects of the trial. Having told him that side was of no interest to me, I asked him the following question:

    “Given your role in this trial, you ought to know more about the scope of the Holocaust than any living person, more even than those who lived through it in flesh and in their memory. You have studied all the documents, read all the secret reports, interrogated all the witnesses. Now tell me: do you understand this fragment of the past, those few pages of history?”

    He shuddered imperceptibly, then, in a soft voice, infinitely humble, he confessed:

    “No, not at all. I know the facts and the events that served as their framework; I know how the tragedy unfolded minute by minute, but this knowledge, as if coming from outside, has nothing to do with understanding. There is in all this a portion which will always remain a mystery; a kind of forbidden zone, inaccessible to reason. Fortunately, as it happens. Without that …”

    He broke off suddenly. Then, with a smile a bit timid, a bit sad, he added:

    “Who knows, perhaps that’s the gift which God, in a moment of grace, gave to man: it prevents him from understanding everything, thus saving him from madness, or from suicide.”53

    Having studied for years the evidence this judge had to consider, it is difficult not to agree with him. For all our knowledge, the world of the camps continue to offer an ever-receding horizon that seeks to escape our understanding every time we seek to close in on it. It is with this in mind that I present at the end of this first chapter the end of the last chapter of Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present. The main protagonist, Sarah Grossman-Weil, is a very dear friend of mine, and an aunt of my co-author Debrah Dwork. Her testimony was one of the invaluable gifts that allowed us to write and complete our book–a gift that somehow helped us to negotiate that gap between knowledge and understanding.

    In August 1944,as the Hungarian Action came to an end and the crematoria stood idle, Sara Grossman-Weil, her husband Menek, her mother-and father-in-law Feigele and Wolf, her brother-in-law Adek, his wife Esther, their adolescent daughter Regina, and their little girl Mirka were herded into a train of cattle cars in Lodz, the last of the hundreds of ghettos the Germans had established to cleanse the German East of Jews.

    The ghetto of Lodz, which had been organized in early 1940 as a holding pen for the Nisko project, had survived at the expense of most of its inhabitants as a vast workshop. The German-appointed Eldest of the Jews, Chaim Rumkowski, had developed a policy to make the ghetto indispensable to the German war effort. If work would not set Jews free, it should at least guarantee survival. The Germans agreed, with a caveat: if the ghetto were an enormous workshop, only those who were capable of work could stay. Selections were instituted, and Sara put rouge on her gaunt cheeks to look healthy. “You would try to look straight, not to look sick. You would not bend, because this would suggest that you’re not capable of doing the work you’re doing. You would walk straight, or as well as you could, to show them that you are fit to remain.”

    But there were those who could not be saved by all the rouge and posture in the world. In early September,1942, the Germans decreed that those who could not work–children under ten and old people over sixty-five–would have to leave. Forcing Rumkowski, his Jewish Council and the Jewish ghetto police to share moral responsibility, the Germans ordered them to execute the order. Their families would be exempt. When the decree was made known, it seemed that the nadir of perdition had been reached. “The sky above the ghetto is unclouded,” Josef Zelkowicz recorded. “Like yesterday and the day before, the early autumn sun shines. It shines and smiles at our Jewish grief and agony, as though someone were merely stepping on vermin, as though some one had written a death-sentence for bedbugs, a day of Judgement for rats which must be exterminated and wiped off the face of the earth.” Like Josef Zelkowicz and everyone else, Sara witnessed dragnet operations to catch infants, toddlers and elementary school children. “The children were taken away; thrown, literally thrown, on to the wagon. And when the mother objected, either she was taken with them, or shot. Or they tore the child away from her and let her go. And all the children, small children, little ones, five-, six-, four-, seven-year-old ones were thrown, literally thrown, into this wagon. The cries were reaching the sky, but there was no help, there was no one to turn to, to plead your case, to beg.” Mirka Grossman was one of the few children to survive the selection.

    With the action against the children and the elderly, the two-year death knell of the last Jewish community on Reich territory had begun. It ended on Wednesday,2 August 1944 when the German mayor of Lodz informed Rumkowski that the ghetto would be resettled, workshop by workshop. “Factory workers will travel with their families,” Rumkowski’s final proclamation read. Sara Grossman-Weil left with her husband’s family. They were herded to the train station and ordered on to the cattle cars. “You couldn’t throw a pin in, one was sitting on top of the other, with the bundles. We were in this cattle car, this wagon, and we were riding, riding, riding. There was no end to it. And the little one asked, in Polish, ‘Daddy, isn’t it better that today it’s a bad day, but tomorrow it will be better?’ She was five years old. And her father said, ‘Today doesn’t matter, tomorrow will be much better.'”

    Tomorrow proved him wrong. The train with the survivors of the Lodz ghetto passed by Kattowitz and Myslowitz, and crossed the Vistula at Neu-Berun. They arrived at the station of Auschwitz. The train turned into a spur and stopped. When the sun began to set, the train backed onto another spur, through a gate, and entered the enormous compound of Birkenau. It came to a halt. The bolted doors were opened. Sara Grossman, her relatives, and the rest of the people on the train were hauled out and told to form two columns, one of men, and one of women and children.

    I was standing there not knowing what’s going on, overwhelmed with the amount of people around us, not believing that they threw us all out from these wagons in the manner they did. How they pushed and shoved and screamed. And these SS men with the dogs in front of us. I lost sight of what was going on. It’s crazy. And I was standing with my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law with her little girl, when someone approached us, and said, “give this child to the grandmother.” And my sister-in-law gave the child to my mother-in-law. They went to the left, and we went to the right.

    Sara and the other women considered fit for work entered the camp. “As we were marching, I saw columns of women marching on the other side in the opposite direction who were half naked, shaven heads, stretching out their arms. ‘Food, food. Give me your bread!’ Screaming, shouting. I was overwhelmed. I thought that I found myself in an asylum, in a madhouse, in a place with only crazy people.” This was the place she had heard about, always in whispers and always with dread. “They always called it Auschwitz, but we didn’t know what it meant.” They arrived at the delousing station, were registered, shaved and showered, and handed some rags and wooden shoes.

    From there they gathered us again in columns, in rags like the people whom I had seen an hour ago in the columns marching in the opposite direction. We had the same look, except we weren’t shouting. We looked like crazy people, just like the rest of them. We were led to a lavatory where we had to take care of our needs, and from there we went to a barrack, which was the house where we would be staying. In this barrack we were given a bunk. The size of the bunk was approximately the size of not quite a twin bed, I would say considerably smaller. And on this bunk bed, five people had to find their sleeping quarters. And this was our new home.

    Sara remained in Birkenau for ten days, and then she was brought on another transport to a munitions factory at Unterlüss, 18 miles northeast of Celle. Most of the inmates were Hungarian women. Sara recalled that sulphur was everywhere, “in the air, and in the bread that you were given as a ration at work, and in your mouth, eyes, hands, fingers, everything turned yellow. I was sick with the smell.”

    Production at Unterlüss came to an end in March 1945. The satellite camp was closed, and the inmates were sent to Bergen-Belsen where Sara was put in a barrack with hundreds of other women. “On the outside were hundreds of women dying of thirst, thirst, and thirst again.”

    It was a sight that is beyond any description or understanding or imagination. You cannot, because when you see the pictures of the dead bodies, you just see pictures. You don’t see the bodies, the eyes that talk to you and beg you for water. You don’t see the mouths quietly trying to say something and not being able to utter a word. You see and you feel as I did, the agony of these people for whom death would be a blessing. They are just dying and can’t die.

    All around the camp were mounds of bodies, and Sara was ordered to move corpses to a large pit.

    These mounds that you see on some of the pictures that are being shown about the Holocaust, they were real people. They were living, breathing, eating, feeling, thinking people, thousands upon thousands of them. Mothers and daughters and children. These pictures are real. And I saw it, I smelled it, I touched them. They were very, very real. This was Bergen-Belsen in March and the beginning of April in 1945.

    Sara survived, and was liberated on her birthday, the 15th of April.

    There were no mounds of corpses in Auschwitz. The crematoria took care of that. “I was standing with my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law with her little girl, when someone approached us, and said, ‘Give this child to the grandmother.’ And my sister-in-law gave the child to my mother-in-law. They went to the left, and we went to the right. And I said, ‘Why?’ My mother-in-law took the little one and went to the left.” None of the new arrivals knew what “left ” meant, and no one who went to the left survived to give testimony. It is from the accounts and reports of the slave or willing workers, and from documents and drawings, that we can follow the route that Feigele and Mirka took. They went to the left, crossed a train track, and came to a road parallel to the rails, running from the gate building at their left to two relatively large buildings at their right. An SS man directed them to the right, towards the two buildings. Another SS man 500 yards down the road told them to turn left, into a compound surrounding one of the two identical brick buildings with their square, squat chimneys. They were not led to the large entrance below the chimney, but walked past the building and then, beyond, along a 70-yard-long terrace. At the end of the paved asphalt they were told to take a sharp turn to the left, and descend a staircase ending at a door leading into a basement.

    Today, in 1995, that underground space, and a room connected to it at right angles, are shallow pits overgrown with grass. In 1944 this place, originally designed as a mortuary, served as the penultimate stage in a process of destruction that had begun with the identification of Feigele and Mirka as Jews, and had continued with their incarceration in the Lodz ghetto, their deportation to Auschwitz, and their selection at the station. Robbed of their home and financial assets in 1939, of most of their other property during the four long years in the ghetto, and of their suitcases at the Auschwitz station, they now were to surrender the last things they owned: the clothes they wore. The basement they entered served as the undressing room.

    Very few of the hundreds of thousands people who entered that basement survived. One of them was Filip Müller. “At the entrance to the basement was a signboard, and written on it in several languages the direction: To the baths and disinfecting rooms. The ceiling of the changing room was supported by concrete pillars to which many more notices were fixed, once again with the aim of making the unsuspecting people believe that the imminent process of disinfection was of vital importance to their health. Slogans like Cleanliness brings freedom or One louse may kill you were intended to hoodwink, as were numbered clothes hooks fixed at a height of 1.50 meters.”

    Feigele, Mirka and the other Jews who had survived the Germans’ abuse until that point were told to undress, and then herded into a small vestibule. Someone pointed to the right, to the doors of an oblong white-washed room resembling the one they had just left. But, as Filip Müller knew, there were some important visible, and even more important invisible differences between the two rooms. “Down the length of the room concrete pillars supported the ceiling. However, not all the pillars served this purpose: for there were others, too. The Zyklon-B gas crystals were inserted through openings into hollow pillars made of sheet metal. They were perforated at regular intervals and inside them a spiral ran from top to bottom in order to ensure as even a distribution of the granular crystals as possible. Mounted on the ceiling was a large number of dummy showers made of metal. These were intended to delude the suspicious on entering the gas chamber into believing that they were in a shower-room.” Feigele, Mirka and the others were crammed in, the doors closed, and the lights were turned off.

    While Feigele and Mirka were driven into the underground room, a van marked with a Red Cross sign parked along its side, which projected 1.5 feet above ground. Two “disinfecting operators ” climbed on the roof of the basement, carrying sealed tins manufactured by the Degesch Company. They chatted leisurely, smoking a cigarette. Then, on signal, each of them walked to a one foot high concrete shaft, donned a gas mask, took off the lid, opened the tin, and poured the pea-sized contents into the shaft. They closed the lids, took off their masks, and drove off.

    Müller witnessed everything from a short distance. “After a while I heard the sound of piercing screams, banging against the door and also moaning and wailing. People began to cough. Their coughing grew worse from minute to minute, a sign that the gas had started to act. Then the clamor began to subside and to change to a many-voiced dull rattle, drowned now and then by coughing.” Ten minutes later all was quiet.

    An SS man ordered Müller and the rest of the death squad workers to take the lift down into the basement. There they waited for the ventilating system to extract the gas from the room and, after some twenty minutes, unbolted the doors to the gas chambers. Contrary to Höss’s assertion that he had adopted Zyklon-B as a killing agent because it offered an easy death, the victims showed the marks of a terrible struggle.

    This is the place where and the method by which Germans killed Feigele, Mirka, and countless other human beings. Within hours of their arrival in Auschwitz nothing of the Jews remained but smoke, ashes, and our memory of them. Their bodies were brought to the ground floor with the same lift that Müller had used to go down to the basement, and there they were cremated in one of the five incinerators with three muffles each in the center of the crematorium.

    Today we know where Feigele and Mirka died: in a town the Germans always called Auschwitz. We know they built the town in 1270, and a Polish king bought it in 1457. We know the town declined under Polish rule. We know it had a modest existence along a major railway line in the nineteenth century. We know that the region became the object of German rage in the 1920s. We know the National Socialists annexed the town to the Reich in 1939. We know that they intended to repeat the initiatives of the middle ages.

    Today we know that Feigele and Mirka died in a camp originally created as a labour exchange, that then served as a Polish army base, and that the Germans adapted into a concentration camp to terrorize a local population too useful to deport. We know that the camp accrued one function after another: it became a production site for sand and gravel, an execution site for the Gestapo in Kattowitz, the center of a large agricultural estate to support ethnic German transplantees, a labour pool to construct a synthetic rubber plant and a new town. We know that, throughout these transformations, Auschwitz remained the centerpiece of Himmler’s ambitions in the recovery of German history in this one-time area of German settlement. We know that it became a centre of extermination when he lost interest in the town and the region, and that it also served as the heart of a network of satellite camps to service various industries in the region, and that it finally became a labour exchange again, only this time the labourers were Jewish slaves.

    Today we know who designed the building: Georg Werkmann, Karl Bischoff and Walther Dejaco. We know who constructed the furnaces: the Topf and Sons Company in Erfurt. We know the power of the forced-air system (over 4 million cubic feet per hour) to fan the flames. We know the official cremation capacity (32 corpses) per muffle per day. We know that it was Bischoff who took the decision to change the larger morgue into an undressing room, and the smaller one into a gas chamber. We know that Dejaco drafted the plan that transformed a mortuary into a death chamber. We know the specifications of the ventilation system that made the room operable as a site for mass extermination: seven horsepower is required to extract the Zyklon-B from the gas chamber in 20 minutes. We know that the building was brought into operation on 13 March 1943 and 1,492 women, children and old people were gassed. We know about the difficulties the Germans had getting everything just the way they wanted. We know who paid the bills and how much was paid.

    We know all of that. But we understand very little about many issues central to this machinery of death. Research about the history of the region, the intended future of the town, the development of the camp, and the changing design of the crematoria has been useful, but is not the whole story about the Holocaust at Auschwitz. It is the questions of the victims and the survivors which loom large.

    When Sara Grossmann faced selection upon arrival at Auschwitz in August 1944,

    I lost sight of what was going on. It’s crazy. And I was standing with my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law with her little girl, when someone approached us, and said, give this child to the grandmother. And my sister-in-law gave the child to my mother-in-law. They went to the left, and we went to the right. And I said, ‘Why?’ My mother-in-law took the little one and went to the left. Regina, Esther, and I went to the right. To the left were all the people who were led to the gas chambers, crematorium, however you call it.

    “Gas chambers, crematorium, however you call it.” Half a century later, Sara Grossman was not precise. What mattered was that the men were separated from the women, and that the grandmother Feigele and the little girl Mirka went to the left, and the adolescent Regina, and the two sisters-in-law Esther and Sara to the right. And she is correct. That process of selection is the core and moral nadir of the horror of the Holocaust–the selection, and not the gas chambers and crematoria. The Germans and their allies had arrogated to themselves the power to decide who should live and who would die. “As though,” Hannah Arendt accused Eichmann, “you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world.”

    Mirka, Sara, and hundreds of thousands of other deportees lined up for selection by a physician. Had he worked alone, he could have done little harm. But he did not. His work was but a small part of a system envisioned by ideologues, organized by bureaucrats, financed by industrialists, serviced by technocrats, operated by ordinary men, and supported by millions of Germans whose daily lives were improved by the goods shipped home to the Reich for their use.

    And Sara’s question remains: “And I said, ‘Why?'”54

    II Auschwitz and the Holocaust

    Our turn came. My mother, my sons, and I stepped before the “selectors.” Then I committed my second terrible error. The selector waved my mother and myself to the adult group. He classed my younger son Thomas with the children and the aged, which was to mean immediate extermination. He hesitated before Arvad, my older son.

    My heart thumped violently. This officer, a large man who wore glasses, seemed to be trying to act fairly. Later I learned that he was Dr. Fritz Klein, the “Chief Selector.” “This boy must be more than twelve,” he remarked to me.

    “No,” I protested.

    The truth that Arvad was twelve, and I could have said so. He was big for his age, but I wanted to spare him from labors that might prove too arduous for him.

    “Very well,” Klein agreed amiably. “To the left!”

    I had persuaded my mother that she should follow the children and take care of them. At her age she had the right to the treatment accorded to the elderly and there would be someone to look after Arvad and Thomas.

    “My mother would like to remain with the children,” I said.

    “Very well,” he again acquiesced. “You’ll all be in the same camp.”

    “And in several weeks you’ll all be reunited,” another officer added, with a smile.


    Auschwitz is the central site of the Holocaust. This is attested by the fact that, at least since the year 1951 when Theodor Adorno stated that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,” the word Auschwitz has become a synecdoche for the Holocaust in general.56

    There are various reasons why Auschwitz is legitimately seen as the center of the Holocaust. First of all, it is the site where the single largest group of Jews were murdered. According to Raul Hilberg’s rather conservative figures, which I hold to be the most reliable estimate of total Jewish deaths, the Holocaust claimed 5.1 million Jewish lives. Of this number, over 800,000 Jews died as the result of ghettoization and general privation, over 1.3 million were murdered in open-air shootings, and up to 3 million died in the camps. Of these, Auschwitz had the highest mortality with 1 million Jews, followed by Treblinka and Belzec with 750,000 and 550,000 Jews respectively.57

    Second of all, Auschwitz is seen as the central site because the camp became the destination to a greater variety of Jews than any other. From at least twelve European countries Jews were deported to Auschwitz, and as such Auschwitz testifies to the pan-European character of the Holocaust.58

    Then Auschwitz may be seen as a particularly pointed attempt to destroy not only Jews, but also the soul of Judaism. As the great Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig reminded the generation that was to succumb in Auschwitz, the Jews were the first to understand that the son is born so that he may bear witness to his father’s father “The grandson renews the name of the forebear. The patriarchs of old call upon their last descendant by his name–which is theirs.”59 Thus God planted eternal life in the midst of the Jewish people. Rosenzweig observed how the Jewish concept of a linked sequence of everlasting life which goes from grandparent to grandchild will know its eternity to be present in the child of its child. Because of this, Jews could forego to claim its eternity by means of the possession of land. In the grandchild, the Jewish nation knew itself to “begin again.” As Elie Wiesel wrote in a commentary on the new beginning Adam and Eve made after they had been thrown out of Paradise, “it is not given to man to begin.” This, so he argues, is God’s privilege. “But it is given to man to begin again–and he does so every time he chooses to defy death and side with the living.”60 This, in a nutshell, is the eternal foundation of a people which defines itself in the relationship between the old and the young. In Auschwitz the Germans annulled this link, and with that tried to destroy the very basis of Jewish existence: on arrival the old and the young, the grandparents and the grandchildren, were immediately sent to the gaschambers. And thus the linked sequence of the everlasting life which, for the Jews, goes from grandparent to grandchild, was to be destroyed from the very beginning. The generation in between was allowed to live for somewhat longer, in the barracks adjacent to the ramps where the selection took place, under the smoke of the crematoria. Auschwitz was, in the testimony of a survivor Yehiel Dinur given during the Eichmann Trial, a different planet.

    Time there was not like time on earth. Every fraction of a minute there passed on a different scale of time. And the inhabitants of this planet had no names, they had no parents nor did they have children. There they did not dress in the way we dress here; they were not born there and they did not give birth; they breathed according to different laws of nature; they did not live–nor did they die–according to the laws of this world.61

    In this world, the old covenants between people were destroyed–not only at the moment of selection, but also for those “lucky” enough to survive their initial confrontation with Auschwitz. The whole camp system was designed to make fathers strangers to their sons, mothers strangers to their daughters, to set brother against brother and sister against sister. Primo Levi commented in his The Drowned and the Saved that in Auschwitz “almost everybody feels guilty of having omitted to offer help.”

    The presence at your side of a weaker–or less cunning, or older, or too young–companion, hounding you with his demands for help or with his simple presence, in itself an entreaty, is a constant in the life of the Lager. The demand for solidarity, for a human word, advice, even just a listening ear, was permanent and universal but rarely satisfied. There was no time, space, privacy, patience, strength; most often, the person to whom the request was addressed found himself in his turn in a state of need, entitled to comfort.62

    Those whose ancestors had given the world knowledge of a God who had created a good world from nothing were confronted with the truth of Auschwitz–the revelation that “man, the human species–we, in short–had the potential to construct an infinite enormity of pain, and that pain is the only force created from nothing, without cost and without effort. It is enough not to see, not to listen, not to act.63 Therefore Auschwitz has remained such an enormous challenge to survival of Judaism, a religion that centers on a covenant of life between God and Abraham, a covenant that stipulates that the stronger will bear witness to the suffering of the weaker in a world that God acknowledged to be “good.”

    Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly for those concerned with the general cultural-historical impact of Auschwitz, the camp may be considered the center of the Holocaust because it was in its technology and organization thoroughly “modern.” For Henry Feingold, Auschwitz marked the juncture where the European industrial system went awry. “[I ]nstead of enhancing life, which was the original hope of the Enlightenment, it began to consume itself.” Therefore Auschwitz was “a mundane extension of the modern factory system.”

    Rather than producing goods, the raw material was human beings and the end product was death, so many units per day marked carefully on the manager’s production charts. The chimneys, the very symbol of the modern factory system, poured forth acrid smoke produced by burning human flesh. The brilliantly organized railroad grid of modern Europe carried a new kind of raw material to the factories. It did so in the same manner as with other cargo. In the gas chambers the victims inhaled noxious gases generated by prussic acid pellets, which were produced by the advanced chemical industry of Germany. Engineers designed the crematoria; managers designed the system of bureaucracy that worked with a zest and efficiency more backward nations would envy. Even the overall plan itself was a reflection of the modern scientific spirit gone awry.64

    As the nexus of technological prowess, bureaucratic discipline and ideological determination, Auschwitz was not only thoroughly modern, but also “civilized.” As Franklin H. Littel observed, the death camps were not planned, built and operated by illiterate, unschooled savages. “The killing centres were, like their inventors, products of what had been for generations one of the best university systems in the world.”65 The architect who designed Birkenau was a Bauhaus graduate. Dr. Josef Mengele had a degree in philosophy from the University of Munich, and a degree in medicine from the University of Frankfurt am Main, and believed himself to be a herald of a new era. Inspired by Mengele, the German dramatist Rolf Hochhuth had the camp doctor state in his controversial play The Deputy that Auschwitz marked the end of the old and the beginning of a new age.

    The truth is, Auschwitz refutes
    creator, creation, and the creature.
    Life as an idea is dead.
    This may well be the beginning
    of a great new era,
    a redemption from suffering.
    From this point of view only one crime
    remains: cursed be he who creates life.
    I cremate life. That is modern humanitarianism–the sole salvation from the future.66

    As Hochhuth’s doctor declares, the modernity of Auschwitz was partly embodied in the crematoria, which offered in their logical arrangement of undressing rooms, gas chambers, and crematoria ovens a carefully thought-out production facility of death. Yet the modernity of this technology of mass destruction is not merely embodied in the statistics that state that the gas chambers could kill so-many people in so-many minutes, and the ovens could reduce to ashes so-many corpses in so-many hours. It is also embodied in the anonymity of the killing procedure itself. Ancient German law, going back to the pre-Christian era, stipulated that sentences of death should be pronounced in the midst of the community in the open air, and the judges who had condemned a person to death should be present at the execution, which likewise had to take place in full view of the community, and the gods. All of this embodied a profound sense that when humans decide to take the life of another human being on behalf of society, they inflict a wound in the created world, and should accept public responsibility of this. In the modern world, issues of personal responsibility and accountability tend to become diffused. At no point has this become so clear as in the case of Auschwitz, where Jews were executed without having been subjected to a clearly established judicial procedure, and where the killing itself took place hidden from the world, in (mostly) underground gas chambers.

    It is at this point useful to quote the following consideration by Pierre Vidal-Naquet

    In what way do the gas chambers have a specificity, not only in relation to the Gulag (which is obvious) or in relation to other methods of state sponsored terror, but also in relation to the Nazi concentration camp system as a whole, and even in relation to the collective murders carried out by the Einsatzgruppen in the USSR? Between death by gas and death by bullets, or even death by exhaustion or by the action of exanthematous typhoid, is there a difference in kind? My personal response is that there is a difference in kind. What, in the context of the SS State, do the gas chambers actually represent Not only, not essentially, do they represent the industrialization of death–by which I mean the employment of industrial techniques for purposes of killing and not for production (which was still being carried out, moreover, just besides the slaughterhouses). While the “crematory ovens” of Auschwitz were highly refined tools, the techniques used to operate the gas chambers were of a very low level. The essential issue does not lie there. The key point is the negation of a crime within the crime itself. The problem has been posed very well by a German lawyer, Attorney Hans Laternser, during the course of the Auschwitz trial (1963-1965). Starting from the moment the order to kill was given, those who selected, not–as is often said and as I myself once happened to say–in order to separate those fit for work from those unfit but in order to separate those who would be sent to replace the disappeared work force from those who would be killed right away, were in reality not killers of Jews but saviors of Jews. This lawyer was expressing in his own way something real: the reality of the diffusion of responsibility, the reality of the near-disappearance of responsibility. Who, then, was the killer at Auschwitz? Was it the person who put the Zyklon B tablets under the lid that led into the gas chambers? All the operations from the directing of victims as they left the trains to the undressing and cleaning of bodies to their placement inside the crematoria were basically under SS control, of course. But all this was done through the intermediary of members of the Sonderkommandos who, in the end, were the only ones placed in direct contact with death.67

    In other words, the very modernity of Auschwitz–that is the anonymity of the killing–is embodied in the uniquely modern phenomenon that has arisen from it: the fact of Holocaust Denial. As Vidal Naquet noted, “[t]he crime can be denied today because it was anonymous.”68

    The American theologian Richard L. Rubenstein explored some other dimensions of the “modern humanitarianism” of Auschwitz. Rubenstein defined Auschwitz as the supreme example of absolute domination that, thanks to technology and bureaucracy, has become possible in the modern age. As a place which combined extermination with slave labour, Auschwitz constituted a new kind of society which allowed, so Rubenstein believes, a prophetic vision of a future increasingly confronted with the assumed problem of “surplus populations.”

    The death-camp system became a society of total domination only when healthy inmates were kept alive and forced to become slaves rather than killed outright. To repeat, as long as the camps [Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, Chelmno] served the single purpose of killing prisoners, one can speak of the camps as places of mass execution but not as a new type of human society. Most of the literature on the camps has tended to stress the role of the camps as places of execution. Regrettably, few ethical theorists or religious thinkers have paid attention to the highly significant political fact that the camps were in reality a new form of human society.

    Only when the doomed inmates were kept alive for some time did the new society develop. It was at Auschwitz that the most effective system of extermination, mass gas chambers using Zyklon B coupled with on-the-spot crematoria, was first put to use. It was also at Auschwitz that the most thorough going society of total domination in human history was established. Much has been written about the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele, the physician at Auschwitz, who used to meet the new arrivals and separate those who were to be killed immediately from those who were to be worked to death as slaves. Such a selection process did not take place at camps like Treblinka because they functioned only as killing centers. At Auschwitz, the camp served two seemingly contradictory purposes: Auschwitz was both a slave-labor and an execution center. Given the nature of slavery as practised by the Germans, only doomed slaves could successfully be dealt with as things rather than as human beings.69

    Rubenstein believed that, as things are going, Western urban civilization is doomed to end in Necropolis, the new city of the dead. As the Holocaust was to him “an expression of some of the most significant political, religious and demographic tendencies of Western civilisation in the twentieth century,” so Auschwitz was the terminal expression of the chalice of modernization: the city.

    At Auschwitz, the Germans revealed new potentialities in the human ability to dominate, enslave, and exterminate. They also revealed new areas in which capitalist enterprise might profitably and even respectably be employed. The camps were thus far more of a permanent threat to the human future than they could have been had they functioned solely as an exercise in mass killing. An extermination center can only manufacture corpses, a society of total domination creates a world of the living dead.70

    As not all deportees were killed on arrival, many more survived Auschwitz than any other of the death camps. Of the 1.1 million Jews who were deported to Auschwitz, some 100,000 Jews left the camp alive. Many of those survivors were to succumb during the death march to the West, or during their stay during the Spring of 1945 in concentration camps like Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. Yet tens of thousands saw liberation, and testified after the war about their ordeal. And some even did so during the war. The most important war-time report on the German genocide of the Jews, sponsored by the War Refugee Board, was written by two escapees from Auschwitz, and described the extermination installation in some detail. And of the 100,000 gentile survivors of Auschwitz, of whom the Poles, with 75,000, were the largest group, all who could did bear witness to the use of the camp as an extermination center for Jews.

    The technology of mass destruction as it existed in Auschwitz also points at another important issue: the significance of the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Problem as a state-initiated, state-sponsored, and state-controlled program of genocide. Like any major historical problem, there has been, is, and probably will remain legitimate disagreement between historians about various aspects of the history of the Holocaust. Yet there has been, is, and probably will remain a general consensus that the German destruction of at least five and possibly as many as six and half million European Jews was not the result of countless individual initiatives taken, as Irving phrased it in 1984, by “Nazi criminals, acting probably without direct orders from above.”71 The evidence of the operations of the Einsatzgruppen in the German-occupied parts of the Soviet Union, of the ghetto-clearings in Poland with the subsequent mass-killings in the Operation Reinhard death camps, and of the deportations of Jews from many countries over long distances to the killing centres in Poland reveals a high level of organization involving many state officials. Furthermore Auschwitz was constructed in the middle of the war, in a time that there was a general building stop in Germany, with public funds. Many levels in the German bureaucracy were involved in the process, providing special construction permits and rationed building materials. The German state railways cooperated when it gave after careful consideration permission for the construction of a railway spur connecting the existing railway tracks at Auschwitz to the crematoria in Birkenau. As Dwork and I have shown in our book Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present the concentration camp at Auschwitz was originally not intended as an extermination center for Jews. Yet its staged transformation from a prison camp for Poles to a death camp for Jews occurred on the initiative of, and under control of, the state–primarily as it was embodied in Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in his capacity as Chief of the German Police.

    Finally, Auschwitz is considered the center of the Holocaust because enough of at least the two most important parts, the Stammlager and Birkenau, still remain to give the visitor a sense of the nature and scale of the operation. Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor, which together hosted the murder of 1.5 million Jews, were small camps demolished by the Germans at the end of 1943. Very little to nothing of the original arrangement can be seen. Only recently in Belzec, with the uncovering of the enormous mass graves, has it become possible to acquire, at the location of the massacre, some visual sense of the atrocities that passed there.

    In Auschwitz I, and more importantly in Auschwitz II, this is different. When the SS evacuated the camps, they had been able to dismantle the gas chambers and blow up the crematoria. But the Soviets found the rest of the Stammlager and Birkenau largely intact. In 1947 the Polish Parliament adopted a law “Commemorating the Martyrdom of the Polish Nation and other Nations in Oswiecim,” and the Minister of Culture included both Auschwitz I and II in the new State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau.

    Given the many remains of the death camps–the guard towers, the barbed wire fences, the gatehouse, the tracks, the barracks, the ruins of the crematoria, and so on–it is not surprising that in a largely visual culture dominated by photography, film and television, the landscape of Auschwitz became an icon of the Holocaust. Alain Resnais’ and Jean Cayrol’s 1955 magnificent movie Night and Fog was largely shot in and around Birkenau. The opening scenes showed the banal, seemingly innocent fields around the camp. Filming the remains at Birkenau, Resnais allowed the horror to slowly emerge from the midst of banality. As the camera panned the empty barracks in Birkenau, the narrator immediately warned us not to take the image of the present for the reality of the past.

    No description, no picture can restore their true dimension: endless, uninterrupted fear. We would need the very mattress where scraps of food were hidden, the blankets that was fought over, the shouts and curses, the orders repeated in every tongue, the sudden appearance of the S.S., seized with a desire for a spot check or for a practical joke. Of this brick dormitory, of these threatened sleepers, we can only show you the shell, the shadow.72

    Resnais tries to evoke an impression of the deportations by filming what remained of the deportees, in the showcases of the museum at Auschwitz I. As he filmed their contents, the narration which until then had so quietly recalled and probed, become halting, as the unimaginable and unspeakable is brought home. Finally it stops -as if there is nothing more to say about the world of the camp. Resnais constantly returned to the fields of Birkenau, and with every scene he confirmed the factuality of the events that happened there, and the centrality of Auschwitz for the modern understanding of the world.

    Revolutionary in its visual language, and brilliant in its counterpoint of image and sound, past atrocity and present landscape, Night and Fog simultaneously established and confirmed the central role of the landscape of Auschwitz in the modern imagination of atrocity. It is not surprising that, ever since, Auschwitz has become one of the world’s most important places of pilgrimage. The recollections of the American Konnilyn Feig stand for the experience of many. When she first visited Auschwitz, she was not very impressed with the place, which turned out to be the Stammlager: “It is truly like visiting just another museum.” Later that day, Feig discovered Birkenau– by accident.

    We left Auschwitz when it was dark, but a full orange Polish moon stood in the sky. Wrong turn, and suddenly, silhouetted starkly against the sky, the strangest, eeriest sight I had ever seen. No one was around. It was silent. We got out, walked to the gates, and then peered through the fences. I did not know what I was looking at, but it frightened me to my depths–a young American girl standing with a friend in Poland in the deserted countryside, at Birkenau. I felt an overwhelming sense of evil–not horror, as in the Auschwitz warehouses, but evil. God, it was awful. I stood with my eyes wide and my mouth open, speechless. I had no idea what it was, but I felt evil, and that moment, that time, has never left me.73

    This brings me to an autobiographical note. Seeing Night and Fog as a high school student in the early 1970s, and reading Feig’s Hitler’s Death Camps as a doctoral candidate in the early 1980s, I became interested in Auschwitz as a symbolic landscape. I travelled there in order to make a pilgrimage to the central site of the modern world. Yet walking around Auschwitz, and noting not only the camp grounds, but also the substantial German wartime civic construction in the town of Auschwitz, I had to revise my view of the camp. I realized that having grown up in a culture that had defined itself as one “after Auschwitz,” I had also “mythified” Auschwitz, ignoring descriptions of historical contingency for the sake of assertions about some unchanging nature of the site, subsuming, in the case of Auschwitz, my general understanding as a historian for the complexity of human acts in a belief in the simplicity of essences, and taking statements of fact as explanations.74 Remembering Ronald Barthes dictum that the critique of a mythified object begins when we recall that it once was made,75 I began to investigate the archives in Poland, and found evidence that increased my confusion. The camp in Auschwitz had been not merely built right next to an existing town, but one that the same men who had ordered the construction of the camp had designated as a centre of growth. National Socialist Auschwitz was to become the German capital of a German district, and the site of massive German industrial activity. It became clear that the mythification of Auschwitz,in which I had participated unwittingly, had blinded me for a more complex reality in which seemingly opposing things such as the design for a utopia and the construction of a dystopia existed alongside each other. I became a truly “revisionist” historian when, with the help of my friend and colleague Debrah Dwork, I decided to strip away the myth, to lay bare the place, and reconstruct the where, how, when, and finally why of Auschwitz. In our work, it became clear that while Auschwitz did become the largest death camp for Jews, it was not pre-ordained to become the major site of the Holocaust. Reclaiming the many different and contrary intentions the Germans had for Auschwitz, we became able to square the way Auschwitz became the central site of the Holocaust with the ways of the world–a world in which the mysterious, mythifiable forces of malevolence seem often so ludicrously irrelevant compared to the profane, utterly intelligible and very effective tendencies of insufficiency and expediency. As a result, our book, Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present recovers the ambiguous and often paradoxical realities that are at the bottom of the crisp, consistent and in many ways convenient scheme earlier historians accepted as the war-time history of Auschwitz.

    The history of Auschwitz is not carved in stone, but like all accounts of the past it is subject to revision. Contrary to what Holocaust Deniers assert, serious historians who accept that Auschwitz was a central site of the Holocaust do not turn-off their critical faculties when they consider the topic. They do not consider the inherited history of the camp a religious dogma. At no point is this so clear as in the way the historical community has accepted and endorsed a major revision of the death count of Auschwitz from 4 million to 1.1 million. I would like to review here, in some detail, the way and manner in which the responsible revisionist scholarship of Dr. Franciszek Piper, chief historian of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, has established these numbers.

    Before we begin, it is important to note that the Germans did not keep any records as to the number of people killed in the gas chambers. There are many German testimonies to that effect. One of them is from SS-Unterscharführer Pery Broad, who worked in the Political Department at Auschwitz–the office that served among other things as a liason between Berlin and the camp for the purpose of the Final Solution. Immediately after the war, Broad gave some valuable information regarding record keeping.

    When information was requested by the Reich Main Security Office concerning 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. The person asked for “is not and never has been detained in camp,” or “he is not in the files”–these were the usual formulas given in reply. At present, after the evacuation of Auschwitz and the burning of all papers and records, the fate of millions of people is completely obscure. No transport or arrival lists are in existence any more.76

    Broad’s statement was confirmed by Commandant Rudolf Höss, who wrote after the war in a document that was submitted and accepted as evidence in the Eichmann Trial that he had not been allowed to keep records. Eichmann was “the only SS officer who was allowed to keep records concerning these liquidation operations, according to the orders of the Reichsführer-SS. All other units which took part in any way had to destroy all records immediately.”77 And Oswald Pohl,who ran the central administration of the SS, testified during his trial that while he received regular information about the mortality of registered prisoners, he was not informed about the number of deportees killed in the gas chambers upon their arrival in Auschwitz.78

    The first post-war attempt to establish within the context of a forensic investigation the total number of dead was undertaken by the “Extraordinary State Committee For the Ascertaining and Investigation of Crimes Committed by the German-fascist Invaders and Their Associates On Crimes Committed by the German-fascist Invaders in the Oswiecim Death Camp.” The committee came to the conclusion that four million people had been killed in Auschwitz. Their conclusion was based on an assessment of the capacity of the crematoria. The five crematoria would have been able to burn, at least in theory, 5,121,000 bodies.79 Added to that was the extra capacity provided by the pyres.

    Making allowances for possible undercapacity operation of the crematoriums and stoppages, however, the Commission of technical experts established that during the existence of the Oswiecim camp the German executioners killed in it no less than four million citizens of the USSR., Poland, France, Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Holland, Belgium, and other countries.80

    Apart from the engineering approach to the question how many people had died in Auschwitz a second method emerged to establish the number of victims. It was based on an analysis of the number of deportations to the camp. As early as 1946, Nachman Blumental, using this method, came to an informed guess that the number of victims ought to have been somewhere between 1.3 and 1.5 million.81 In the early 1950s, Gerald Reitlinger also tried to make a rough guess of the number of victims on the basis of the number of deportees.

    As to the total number of Jews brought to the selection place at Auschwitz, it is possible to estimate fairly closely for the Western and Central European countries and the Balkans but not for Poland. There is no real guide to the percentage gassed. It was low before August,1942,and generally low again after August,1944, but in the meantime gassings might vary between fifty and nearly a hundred per cent. The following list makes allowances for a number of French and Greek transports sent to Majdanek and 34,000 Dutch Jews who went to Sobibor:

    Belgium 22,600
    Croatia 4,500
    France 57,000
    Greater Reich [….direct transports only ]* 25,000
    Greater Reich [ via Theresienstadt] 32,000
    Greece 50,000
    Holland 62,000
    Hungary (wartime frontiers) 380,000
    Italy 5,000
    Luxembourg 2,000
    Norway 700
    Poland and Baltic States* 180,000
    Slovakia (1939 borders) 20,000

    Of this total,550,000 to 600,000 may have been gassed on arrival and to this must be added the unknown portion of the 300,000 or more, missing from the camp, who were selected.82

    It is important to note that Reitlinger systematically chose, if confronted with different estimates about the number of victims, the lowest one. The first reason was that exaggeration would serve those who wished to deny the Holocaust.83 The second one must be located in his unusually cheerful disposition vis-a-vis the whole story, which was rooted in his very bleak assessment of human nature: as he wrote the book, he always reminded himself that it could have been worse–a sentiment few have shared.84

    Finally there were different assessment made by witnesses. The most important of these was, without doubt, Commandant Rudolf Höss. During his initial interrogations, Höss seems to have confirmed an initial assessment done by his interrogators that three million people had been killed in Auschwitz.85 In Nuremberg, he gave different numbers at different occasions. During his interrogations he gave detailed list of numbers for each nationality that came to over 1.1 million deportees.86 In his affidavit, however, he stated that “at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated [in Auschwitz ] by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000.”87 He confirmed this number in a conversation with the prison psychologist Dr. Gilbert. “He readily conformed that approximately 2 1/2 million Jews has been exterminated under his direction.”88 In a short memorandum which he wrote for Gilbert later in April Höss returned to the lower number. He now stated that the number of 2.5 million referred to the technical potential. “[T]o the best of my knowledge, this number appears to me much too high. If I calculate the total of the mass operations which I still remember, and still make allowance for a certain percentage of error, I arrive, in my calculation, at a total of 1.5 million at the most for the period from the beginning of 1941 to the end of 1944.”89 Finally, in Poland, Höss re-affirmed that the number of victims had been most likely less than 1.2 million persons, commenting that “I regard the number of 2.5 million as far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive capabilities.”90

    Thus, by the beginning of the 1950s, there were basically three estimates of the number of victims, each based on different sources: a high one of 4 million based on the assumed capacity of the crematoria, a low one of around 1 million based on the number of transports and Höss’s final assessment given to Dr. Gilbert in Nuremberg and Dr. Jan Sehn in Cracow, and a middle one of around 2.5 million, based on Eichmann’s number as related by Höss, and as initially substantiated by Höss in his Nuremberg affidavit.

    Until the early 1980s no original scholarship was undertaken to come to a resolution of the unacceptably great range between the lowest and highest estimate. The Cold War was largely to blame: the figure of 4 million had been established by the Soviets, and the figure of 1 million had been first proposed in the West. As relations between the East and West deteriorated, with the largest part of Germany becoming part of NATO and with that country refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the post-war Polish annexation of the former German territories of East Prussia, Pomerania, and Silesia, the issue of the number of victims became an object of politics. The communist rulers of Poland were unwilling to give an inch on their claims against Germany as long as the Bonn government did not recognize the territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of Poland, and therefore they continued to maintain, as a matter of policy, that 4 million people had been killed in Auschwitz. In the West, most historians of the Holocaust who, given the political climate, were unable to do original research in the matter tended to accept, with reservations, the middle figure of 2.5 million. Initially only Raul Hilberg, who did important statistical analysis into the number of victims of the Holocaust, supported the lower figure of 1 million. He reasoned–with justification–that given the total number of victims of the Holocaust (5.1 million in his conservative estimate), and given more or less reliable assessments about the number of Jews who died of general privation in the ghettos, who were executed in open-air shootings, and who died in other extermination and concentration camps, the total number of Auschwitz victims could not have been more than 1 million.91

    The advent of Solidarity and the election of the Pole Karol Wojtyla as Pope John-Paul II (1978)changed the intellectual climate in Poland. While the government was still committed to the official figure of 4 million victims, Dr.Piper of the Auschwitz Museum, who had been banned until then from researching the issue, began to focus his attention on the question of how many people had died in the camp. A catalyst for his research were new figures produced in France by Georges Wellers, who had come to the conclusion that 1,613,455 persons had been deported to Auschwitz (of whom 1,433,405 were Jews) and that 1,471,595 of them had died (of whom 1,352,980 were Jews).

    Piper, brought his work to a first completion in 1986. Given the fact that he largely endorsed the figures that had been proposed in the West by Reitlinger and Hilberg, he decided to proceed carefully–a smart move considering that Poland was in the mid 1980s subjected to military rule. He first subjected his conclusions to a process of internal review within the museum, and then to a thorough external review by the leading Polish research institute on the Nazi era, the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland. In 1990, after endorsement of his findings (and with the first post-communist government in power), Piper made his new estimate of 1.1 million victims known to the international community. This figure has been endorsed by all serious, professional historians who have studied the complex history of Auschwitz in some detail, and by the Holocaust research institutes at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.92

    When he began work, Piper realized that the remaining papers of the camp administration, which the SS had largely destroyed before they abandoned the camp, would provide little help in establishing the total number of people deported to and killed in the camp. All the deportees who had been selected for the gas chambers on arrival had never been registered as inmates, and so about them no administrative record within the camp had ever existed except for reports made by the head of the labour allocation of the inmates to his superiors in Berlin, stating that of such-and such transport that contained so many deportees a certain number had been selected as “fit for work,” while the rest, judged to be “unfit for work,” had been subjected to “Special Treatment” (“wurden sonderbehandelt“)or had been “specially lodged” (“gesondert untergebracht“)-an obvious euphemism for killing as firtsly there was no accomodation in the camp to provide “special lodging” for those declared “unfit for work,” and secondly these people subsequently disappeared without a trace.93 Three of such reports survive.94 According to the SS man Pery Broad, who worked in the Political Department of Auschwitz, similar reports were sent by his department to Eichmann at the nerve center of the whole operation to kill the Jews: the Reich Security Main Office. None of these survive. As we have seen above, Broad declared that, immediately after the numbers had been dispatched to Berlin, the Political Department was under instruction to destroy all records.95

    Piper also decided not to make use of the estimates of the number of people murdered made by eyewitnesses. With one exception–Kommandant Rudolf Höss–none of the German personnel who confessed after the war, and none of the survivors of the camp, belonging either to the resistance organization within the camp, or who had worked in administrative offices, or as Sonderkommando in the crematoria, had been in a position to gather sufficient aggregate data over the whole period of the camp’s history to establish a credible figure.

    Piper also discarded the early attempts, made by Soviet and Polish forensic investigators in 1945, to establish the total number of victims on the basis of the incineration capacity of the crematoria. As we have seen, the experts had decided that, over the period of their existence, the crematoria could have incinerated up to 5,121,000 corpses. To be on the safe side, they had assumed that the crematoria had operated on four-fifths of capacity, and therefore they finally assumed a number of four million. Given the fact that the investigators probably over-estimated the incineration capacity of the crematoria (on the basis of a multiplication of the official German figures for each crematorium and the time they were in operation, one would come to a figure of 2.6 million corpses96) and underestimated the sometimes considerable time that the crematoria had been idle, Piper also concluded that it would be difficult to reach conclusions on that basis alone.

    The best approach, so he argued, was to follow Nachman Blumental’s method and proceed on the basis of research on the numbers of people who had been deported from the various countries to Auschwitz. Analysis of the transports had been the basis for Reitlinger’s guestimate that some 900,000 people had died in the camp, and Wellers’s conclusion that 1,471,595 people had died in Auschwitz. Yet Piper was sceptical of Wellers’s figures. Wellers, so he argued, had used some arbitrary premises, not considered data of great importance, and combined approximate figures with precise numbers. Failing to take into account transfers of inmates to other camps, inmates who had been released and who had escaped, he had underestimated the number of survivors by 80,000. Added to that, Wellers had overestimated the number of deportees to Auschwitz by around 320,000 people, chiefly by overcalculating the number of Polish Jews brought to the camp (622,935 instead of 300,000).97

    On the basis of archival research done by scholars in various countries, and especially the three-decade long project known in the Auschwitz archive as the “Kalendarium,” and undertaken by the Polish scholar Danuta Czech, Piper was able to come to an estimate of the number of Jews deported to Auschwitz. The Kalendarium–a day-by day, fully annotated chronicle of the history of the camp–is a massive reference work which has been since 1956 the core of the long-term research policy of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Early instalments of the Kalendarium were published in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Work continued, however, throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with constant refinements as more source material became available. Finally, in 1989, the German publishing house Rowohlt published the massive German edition of the Kalendarium, followed a year later by the English-language edition entitled Auschwitz Chronicle: 1939-1945.98 This work includes, after twelve pages of introductory remarks, 805 pages chronicling the pre-history of the camp from the outbreak of the war to the establishment of the camp in the Spring of 1940, and almost every day of the camp’s operation until its liberation on January 27, 1945. Added to that are 19 pages with short biographies of the major perpetrators, a four-page glossary, and an eight-page bibliography that includes 152 individual entries.

    A typical entry, randomly chosen, reads as follows:

    November 14 [1942]

    • Prisoner No.69656 is shot at 5:40 A.M. By the SS sentry on duty at Watchtower B of the main camp “while escaping.”
    • The standby squad is ordered to the unloading ramp at 1:45 A.M. to take charge of a transport.
    • 2,500 Jewish men, women and children arrive with an RSHA transport from the ghetto of the Zichenau District. After the selection, 633 men and 135 women are admitted to the camp and receive Nos. 74745 -75377 and 24524 -24658. The remaining 1,732 are killed in the gas chambers.
    • 1,500 Jewish men, women and children arrive with an RSHA transport from the ghetto in the Bialystok District. After the selection, 282 men and 379 women are admitted to the camp and receive Nos. 75378 -75659 and 24659—25037. The remaining 839 deportees are killed in the gas chambers.
    • 71 male and two female prisoners sent to the camp by the Sipo and SD for the Krakow District receive Nos. 75660—75730, 25038, and 25039.
    • The SS Camp Doctor makes a selection in the prisoners’ infirmary. He selects 110 prisoners, who are taken to Birkenau and killed in the gas chambers.99

    The Kalendarium must be regarded as the basis of any research into the history of deportations to Auschwitz, but it must be pointed out that it is not perfect. Especially with regards to the final liquidation of the Lodz ghetto, and the subsequent deportation of its remaining population to Auschwitz, the absence of a clear indication of the size of 11 of the 12 listed transports is troublesome. The transport of September 18, 1944 had a size of 2,500 deportees. If this was a typical transport, this would mean that the ten listed transports account for a total of 25,000 deportees. However, the Statistical Office of Lodz shows that in August and September 73,563 Jews were deported from Lodz, most of them were sent to Auschwitz. This means that all record of a maximum of 20 transports (some 50,000 people) are lost, at least in the account of the Kalendarium. This “disappearance” of up to 20 transports seems, in my opinion, to be the single greatest anomaly in the Kalendarium.

    Using both the Kalendarium and the research done by historians in various countries on the precise number of Jews of each national group deported–in the case of France the total number of victims was established by Jacob Letschinsky in early 1947,100 in the case of the Netherlands all deportation lists were found intact and included in the Parliamentary Report on the German occupation, and so on–Piper was able to come to precise estimates of deportations to Auschwitz of Jews from the following national groups (rounded up or down to the next thousand for all numbers larger than 10,000):

    1. France: 71 transports between March 27, 1944 and August 22, 1944; transport lists total to a number of some 69,000 deportees.
    2. The Netherlands: 68 transports between July 15, 1942 and September 3, 1944; transport lists total to a number of 60,000 deportees.
    3. Greece: 22 transports between March 20, 1943 and August 16, 1944; railway tickets show the deportation of some 49,000 Jews from Saloniki to Auschwitz, and transport lists show the deportation of another 6,000 Jews from Athens and Corfu to Auschwitz.
    4. Bohemia and Moravia: 24 transports between October 26, 1942 and October 1944; transport lists total a number of some 46,000 deportees.
    5. Slovakia: 19 transports between March 26, 1942 and October 20, 1942; various other transports in the fall of 1944; transport lists total a number of some 27,000 deportees;
    6. Belgium: 27 transports between August 4, 1942 and July 31, 1944; transport lists total a number of some 25,000 deportees;
    7. Italy: 13 transports between October 18, 1943 and October 24, 1944; transport lists total a number of some 7,500 deportees;
    8. Norway: 2 transports between December 1, 1942 and February 2, 1943; transport lists total a number of 700 deportees.

    This brings a sub-total of some 290,000 deportees based on relatively straightforward archival information. All the deportees were either killed on arrival, and therefore not registered, or admitted to the camp, and registered.

    The figures concerning the Jews from various other countries demanded more involved analysis. In one case there are precise figures for the number of deportees, but a significant number of those not killed on arrival were not admitted or registered in the camp. These so-called Durchgangs-Juden (transit Jews) were kept temporarily in transit, to be dispatched to concentration camps in the Reich.

    1. Hungary: according to a telegram dated July 11, 1944, sent by the German ambassador in Budapest to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, a total of 437,402 (438,000) Jews were deported to Auschwitz. The total number of transports was 148. Of the 438,000 Jews, as much as 25,000 could have been qualified as Durchgangs-Juden.

    This brings a revised sub-total of 728,000 deportees–all Jews101–from nine countries. In all the foregoing cases, Piper’s numbers came close to those of Wellers.

    Finally there are the countries for which the data, for various reasons, proved less straightforward, or for which, at one point or another, there has been substantial disagreement between scholars.

    1. Poland: there is relatively reliable information, based on records kept by the camp resistance movement, about the number of regular transports with Polish Jews (except those from Lodz) that arrived in Auschwitz between May 5, 1942 and August 18, 1944 (142). These transports averaged some 1,500 people each, with three going as high as 5,000 people (June 1942 from Bielsko-Biala, August 1942 from Bendzin, September 1943 from Tarnow), three exceeding 4,000 people (June 1942, January 1943 from Lomza, November 1943, from Szebnie), and thirteen transports of between 3,000 and 4,000 people. The usual size of Polish transports was either 1,000 or 2,000 people. Thirty-six transports counted less than 1,000 people. The total number of deportees from these transports were some 221,000 people. Added to this number should be the transports that liquidated the Lodz ghetto in August and September 1944. Of these ten transports are listed. In July 1944 the ghetto counted a little below 74,000 people. By the end of September there were none. Most of the transports went to Auschwitz. Hence the total number of Polish Jews deported to Auschwitz was between 280,000 and 290,000. Piper rounded this up to 300,000 people to accommodate possible discrepancies.

      This round figure of 300,000 Polish Jewish deportees to Auschwitz seems also confirmed by a consideration of the fate of all the Jews of prewar Poland. Before the war, some 3.1 million Jews lived in Poland. After the Polish Campaign of 1939, the Germans gained control of some 1.8 million Polish Jews. With Operation Barbarossa, another million Polish Jews came under German control, which brings a total of 2.8 million Jews. Of these 100,000 survived. The Polish historian Czeslaw Madajczyk determined that of these some 200,000 were executed through shooting by Einsatzgruppen or police units, and 500,000 died in the ghettos. Some two million Polish Jews were killed in the German camps. Madajczyk estimated that between 1.6 million and 1.95 million Jews were killed in Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chelmno; Hilberg estimated the number at 1.7 million. Of these 1.7 million, 100,000 victims came from Germany, the Netherlands, and Czechoslovakia, and the rest (1.6 million) from Poland. Which leaves (2 million -1.6 million =)400,000 Polish Jews unaccounted for at this point in our calculation. Between 50,000 and 95,000 Polish Jews were killed in Maidanek, from which one may conclude that at least 300,000 and possibly as much as 350,000 Polish Jews died in Auschwitz.

      This figure is roughly half the figure of 622,935 Polish Jews assumed by Wellers.
    2. Germany and Austria: according to research done by the German Federal Archive in Koblenz, 38,574 German Jews were killed in Auschwitz. Of these, a number had, before the war, found refuge in France, Belgium and Holland, and were included in transports from those countries to Auschwitz. Others were first deported to Poland, or Bohemia and Moravia (Theresienstadt), and were included in transports from those places. In order not to count these people twice, their number (some 15,000) must be deducted from the 38,574. As a result some 23,000 German Jews were deported directly from Germany to Auschwitz.
    3. Yugoslavia: the data for Yugoslav Jews is confusing. Between 60,000 and 65,000 Yugoslav Jews were killed during the war. Most of them were killed in Yugoslavia, either through public executions, pogroms, or in camps organized by Croats or Serb fascists. From some of these camps Germans deported groups of Jews to Auschwitz–some 5,000 in total. After the Italian capitulation in 1943 the 4,000 remaining Jews in Croatia were deported to Auschwitz in May 1943. Adding in some smaller transports in 1944, Piper estimates the total number at around 10,000.

    This brings a revised sub-total of 1,061,000 Jews deported to Auschwitz.

    Finally, a number of Jews, some 34,000 in total, arrived in Auschwitz from other concentration camps (not including Theresienstadt, or the transit camps in the various countries mentioned above). This brings a final total of 1,095,000 (1.1 million) Jews deported to Auschwitz.102

    How many of these deportees were killed on arrival? There are precise data for the number of registered inmates. The registration numbers ran consecutively, and once a number had been issued, it was never re-issued again. In total 400,207 numbers were issued for six categories of prisoners:

    1. General number system, given to gentiles and Jews (May 1940 and later): 202,499 men and 89,325 women. Total:291,824 inmates.
    2. Jews, A series (May 1944 and later): 20,000 men and 29,354 women.
    • Total: 49,354 inmates.103
    1. Jews, B series (May 1944 and later): 14,897 men.
    2. Re-education prisoners: 9,193 men and 1,993 women. Total 11,186 inmates
    3. Soviet prisoners of war: 11,964. Total 11,964 inmates.
    4. Romani: 10,094 men and 10,888 women. Total 20,982 inmates.
    • Total: 400,000 registered inmates.

    Groups b and c total 64,251 Jewish inmates. On the basis of calculations taking into account the fact that virtually no Jews were registered in the camp before March 1942, and that after that date all the transports sent by the Reich Security Main Office contained exclusively Jews, Piper came to the conclusion that slightly less than half of the 291,824 inmates registered under the general number system were Jews. This brings a total of some 205,000 (64,000 +141,000) registered Jews.

    Given the fact that 1,095,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz, and 205,000 were registered as inmates in the camp, it follows that 890,000 Jews who arrived were not registered. Of these some 25,000 would have been Durchgangs-Juden, which leads to the conclusion that 865,000 Jews were killed on arrival.

    The mortality of the registered Jews is more difficult to determine. It is clear that, of the registered inmates, 190,000 were transferred to other concentration camps–most of them after the death marches of January 1945. A total of 8,000 inmates were liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945, some 1,500 inmates were released, and some 500 escaped. This means that some 199,500 inmates, or roughly half of all the registered inmates, are accounted for. The rest, or 200,000, must have died in the camp. According to Piper, the mortality rate for the general camp population (mainly Poles and Jews), was around 50 per cent over the life of the camp–for the Soviet prisoners- of-war and the Romani it was much higher. As a result Piper came to a rough estimate of 100,000 registered Jews that died in the camp. The result is that the total mortality of Jews in Auschwitz was 960,000.

    Added to this number are a number of other victim groups, such as unregistered Poles sent for execution to Auschwitz by the Gestapo Summary Court, registered Polish inmates, unregistered Romani, registered Romani, unregistered Soviet prisoners-of-war sent for execution, registered Soviet Prisoners-of-war, and others (Czechs, Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Yugoslavs, Frenchmen, Germans, Austrians and so on):

    1. Jews: 860,000 unregistered and 100,000 registered inmates. Total 960,000 victims.
    2. Poles: 10,00 unregistered and 64,000 registered inmates. Total 74,000 victims.
    3. Romani: 2,000 unregistered and 19,000 registered inmates. Total 21,000 victims.
    4. Soviet prisoners-of-war: 3,000 unregistered and 12,000 registered. Total 15,000 victims.
    5. Others: 12,000 registered inmates. Total 12,000 victims.
    • Total: 1,082,000 victims.

    Since its publication, Piper’s assessment that some 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz has found only one substantial challenge. In 1993 the French researcher Jean-Claude Pressac came to the substantially lower figure of around 800,000 dead in a five page appendix to his Les Crématoires d’Auschwitz. The major reason for Pressac’s disagreement with Piper is in the former’s belief that both the number of Hungarian and Polish Jews killed in the camp were substantially lower than Piper assumed. Pressac agreed with Piper that 438,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported to Auschwitz, yet assumed that 118,000 of these had been Durchgangsjuden who had been transferred to other camps immediately after selection.104 Piper had assumed that only 25,000 of these Hungarian Jews had been Durchgangsjuden which meant that Pressac felt justified to reduce, on the basis of this assumption alone, the mortality of Auschwitz with (118,000 – 25,000 =)93,000 people. Pressac also assumed, on the basis of a very quick and rough calculation that instead of 300,000 only 150,000 Polish Jews had been deported to Auschwitz.105 As a result, Pressac came to a total number of 945,200 Jews deported to Auschwitz, of whom 118,000 were Durchgangsjuden (Piper’s number is 1.1 million, of whom 25,000 were Durchgangsjuden, and subtracting from that number 200,000 registered Jews, Pressac assumed that 630,000 Jews were gassed on arrival (Piper’s number is 860,000). Because Pressac also assumed a lower mortality for registered inmates (130,000 instead of 200,000) whilst assuming the same numbers for the Soviet prisoners-of-war (whilst “forgetting” the Romani!), he arrives at a total mortality of (630,000 + 130,000 + 15,000 =) 775,000 dead (or roughly 75 % of Piper’s numbers.106

    In the German translation of Les Crématoires d’Auschwitz which appeared in 1994 under the title Die Krematorien von Auschwitz: Die Technik des Massenmordes, Pressac had changed his mind. Now he presented in an eleven-page appendix a substantially lower figure of at least between 631,000 and 711,000 dead. This new range of figures was the result of a new assumption that the number of Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz was substantially lower than both Piper and Pressac himself had assumed. Instead of 438,000 Hungarian Jews, Pressac now used a number of between 160,000 and 240,000.107 As a result, Pressac came to a total number of between 667,200 and 747,200 Jews deported to Auschwitz (Piper’s number is 1.1 million), and subtracting from that number 200,000 registered Jews, Pressac assumed that between 470,000 and 550,000 Jews were gassed on arrival (Piper’s number is 860,000). Because Pressac also assumed a lower mortality for registered inmates (126,000 instead of 200,000) whilst assuming the same numbers for the Soviet prisoners-of-war and the Romani, he arrives at a total mortality of between 630,000 and 710,000–or roughly between 57% and 65% of Piper’s number.

    Are Pressac’s challenges to Piper’s numbers to be taken seriously? Let us first consider the general credibility of his research. There is no doubt that Pressac has rendered important service to the historiography of Auschwitz through his research on the development of the gas chambers and the crematoria. Yet it is also true that, having achieved a deserved recognition through the study of one aspect of the history of Auschwitz, Pressac did not hesitate to pronounce himself, at least in my own presence, not only the ultimate expert in all matters relating to the history of Auschwitz, but even to claim expertise in all matters relating to the Holocaust. As a result, Pressac did not hesitate to make far-reaching claims on issues he had not studied, and which were beyond his judgement. His desire to “escape” the narrow perspective of his study of the gas chambers by offering his contribution to the question of the number of victims is a case in point. His lack of true expertise becomes clear when one considers how he radically changed his assessment of the number of people murdered in Auschwitz from one edition to the next.

    Reviewing his arguments, it seems to me that Pressac could have a point, which he however fails to prove, when he claims that Piper was too low in his assessment of the number of Hungarian Jews who were qualified as Durchgangsjuden on arrival in Auschwitz. Given the German policy during the Hungarian Action to use Auschwitz as a selection station, I have always had some problem with Piper’s number–but would have no data to prove him wrong. If Pressac were to be right, or somewhat right on this issue, then it could be that the total number of Jewish people murdered in Auschwitz would be lower than 960,000, and that the total number of victims would be closer to 1 million than the 1.1 million people which Piper calculated. Pressac’s argument that 150,000 and not 300,000 Polish Jews were deported to Auschwitz is, however, based on some very arbitrary observations regarding the liquidation of the ghetto of Bendin and Sosnowitz in early 1943. It is clear that, in the first week of August, more than 30,000 Jews from these ghettos arrived with convoys of either 2,000 or 3,000 people in the camp, and that more than 22,000 of them were killed in the gas chambers. Pressac reasons that the average killing and incineration rate should have been close to 4,000 per day during this period. Theoretically, this should have been possible, given the fact that the official daily incineration capacity of the crematoria was 4,756 corpses.108 Pressac reasons, however, that in the first week of August the total incineration capacity of the camp had been less than halved because of problems with crematoria 2 and 5,and that as a result the camp incinerators could not have “accommodated” within the given period the (close to) 22,000 victims. Hence, Pressac assumes that because the incineration capacity of the crematoria was half during this period, the number of victims was half, and that therefore the number of Bendin and Sosnowitz Jews deported to Auschwitz was half–ignoring the fact that there was independent confirmation from the chief of police of Sosnowitz of the number of 30,000 deported Jews. Undeterred by this, Pressac reasons that because the number of deportees was half, the size of each of the transports was half (that is 1,000 or 1,500 people per transport and not 2,000 or 3,000 people per transport) and, committing the fallacy of composition, he now assumes that all transport of Polish Jews were half of what they were supposed to have been, and that therefore the total number of Polish Jews had been half of the 300,000 people Piper assumed.109 Thus a potentially legitimate observation that during the first week of August 1943 half of the ovens were out of order led Pressac to conclude that, over the whole history of the camp, only 150,000 and not 300,000 Polish Jews had been deported to the camp. And he “saves” these 150,000 Polish Jews in an argument that takes a little over a page.

    It will be clear that Pressac’s methodology, and hence his revision of the number of Polish Jews deported to Auschwitz, is not to be taken seriously. As a result, Piper’s numbers remain the only ones that are supported by substantial investigation into the matter. As a scholar working on the history of Auschwitz, I reviewed Dr. Piper’s methodology and his conclusions both in conversation, through study of his writings, and by considering the evidence he has presented, and I fully join the scholarly consensus that he has put the matter to rest. And while it is not impossible that at some future date they could be revised if, for example, more information becomes available about the number of Hungarian Durchgangsjuden I do not expect such a revision to be beyond a range of about 10 per cent. Even if the total number of Jewish victims of Auschwitz were to be closer to 900,000 than 1,000,000, Auschwitz was to remain the center of the Holocaust, and as such the likely focus of Holocaust denial.


    III Intimations, 1941 – 1945

    We do not exactly know how things have happened, and the historian’s embarrassment increases with the abundance of documents at his disposal. When a fact is known through the evidence of a single person, it is admitted without much hesitation. Our perplexities begin when events are related by two or by several witnesses, for their evidence is always contradictory and always irreconcilable.

    Anatole France, Penguin Island 110

    More than fifty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, serious scholars have reached a consensus that some 1.1 million people died in Auschwitz. If it has taken considerable research to establish the number of victims, it has been relatively easy to establish the manner in which these people were brought to their deaths: while epidemics may have caused some 10,000 deaths in Auschwitz, and the violence of the guards and the deprivation of the inmates may have caused ten times as many victims, the vast majority of people who died in Auschwitz were murdered in gas chambers, and their bodies were incinerated in crematoria. Knowledge about the existence and operation of the gas chambers as the main means of mass-extermination was already wide-spread before the liberation of Auschwitz, and was confirmed and further detailed through forensic investigations of the site and study of the remaining documentation, and through post-war statements by witnesses and confessions by perpetrators alike.

    I will now present some of the most important pieces of evidence for our knowledge of the genocidal function of Auschwitz. My discussion consists of two parts: in this and the following two chapters, organized as Part Two, I seek to establish the historiographical context within which this evidence became available. In Part Three, I seek to discuss one particular class of evidence: the documents and blueprints which the Germans produced during the war, and which were preserved in the archive of the Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei, Auschwitz O/S (Central Building Authority of the Waffen SS and the Police, Auschwitz in Upper Silesia)–the construction office that oversaw the building of the gas chambers and the crematoria. By means of both accounts, I seek to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, that there is substantial and positive evidence that Auschwitz was a site where gas chambers and crematoria operated as instruments of genocide. I will not offer the evidence for the historical and institutional context for the development of Auschwitz as an extermination camp. In our book Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present, Debórah Dwork and I reconstructed this dynamically evolving context in great detail, and presented both the direct and circumstantial evidence for our reconstruction in our endnotes.

    Before we begin with an account of the slow development of our knowledge about Auschwitz, it is good to consider the context of that development. A basic argument of Irving, expressed for example at the press conference convened on June 23, 1989, to celebrate the launch of the so-called Leuchter Report, is that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek were a piece of atrocity propaganda. The flyer that announced the press conference claimed that “[b]y writing the introduction to the U.K. Edition of The Leuchter Report, [Irving] has placed himself at the head of a growing band of historians, worldwide, who are now sceptical of the claim that at Auschwitz and the other camps there were ‘factories of death’ in which millions of innocent people were systematically gassed to death.”

    Irving has a record of exposing fakes and swindles: he once used City of London fraud laboratories to discredit cleverly-faked “diaries” of Hitler’s Intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris that had been offered to William Collins Ltd., and in April 1983 he was the first to unmask Adolf Hitler “diaries” as fraudulent, creating a sensation at Der Stern‘s Hamburg press conference until the magazine had him evicted.

    Now he is saying the same thing about the infamous “gas chambers” of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek. They did not exist–ever–except, perhaps, as the brainchild of Britain’s brilliant wartime Psychological Warfare Executive (PWE).111

    The gas chambers were a piece of allied atrocity propaganda which, after the war, no-one had ever wanted to correct. During the press conference, Irving discussed this issue in some detail, changing his accusation against the Psychological Warfare Executive in sofar that he dropped the explicit charge that the accounts of mass gassings were instances of atrocity propaganda manufactured by a British government agency to bolster morale to replace it with the thesis that propagandists presented unproven rumors about the gas chambers as proven facts

    I think that, as I have said often before, that in wartime governments produce propaganda. The propaganda flywheel starts to spin, [and] nobody at the end of the war has a motive to stop the propaganda flywheel spinning. It should be the job of the historians, but the historians have become themselves part of the propaganda process. Now we find in the British archives a lot of evidence that we willingly propagated the gas chamber story because it was a useful propaganda line for us to take. However it was based on such tenuous evidence, as you can see from the document in the press pack,that the people who themselves spread the lie then urged that Her Majesty’s Government should not even attach their name because for fear that eventually it should be shown up.112

    Whatever the particular elements of Irving’s shifting position of what the Psychological Warfare Executive actually did, the core of his thesis –which he shares with most other Holocaust deniers–remains constant: the idea that the gas chamber story belonged to a genre of official disinformation that took its inspiration from the well-documented atrocity stories from the First World War. In the following pages I will show that this is highly implausible: during the Second World War the general public showed a great reluctance to believe accounts of atrocities because they remembered how they had been fooled by wild stories and outright lies of a quarter-century earlier.

    Many of the English who went to war in 1939 remembered Arthur Ponsonby’s best-selling 1928 study Falsehood in War-Time. Chapter 28, entitled “The Manufacture of News,” consists of only one page, and offers an account of five short newspaper clippings recording the fall of Antwerp.

    The Fall of Antwerp

    When the fall of Antwerp got known, the church bells were rung (meaning in Germany)
    Köolnische Zeitung
    According to the Kölnische Zeitung the clergy of Antwerp were compelled to ring the church bells when the fortress was taken.
    Le Matin
    According to what Le Matin has heard from Cologne, the Belgian priests who refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken have been driven away from their places.
    The Times
    According to what The Times has heard from Cologne via Paris, the unfortunate Belgian priests who refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken have been sentenced to hard labour.
    Corriére della Sera

    According to information to the Corriére della Sera from Cologne via London, it is confirmed that the barbaric conquerors of Antwerp punished the unfortunate Belgian priests for their heroic refusal to ring the church bells by hanging them as living clappers to the bells with their heads down.

    Le Matin113

    By the end of the 1930s Ponsonby’s account of the living clappers had become the staple of textbooks, and his more general conclusions, such as that “in war-time, failure to lie is negligence, the doubting of a lie a misdemeanour, the declaration of the truth a crime,”114 had become part and parcel of common parlance. The overall effect of the relentless exposure of the atrocity stories was, however, a general resentment of the public against those who had roused its passion, inflamed its indignation, exploited its patriotism, and desecrated its highest ideals by government initiated concealment, subterfuge, fraud, falsehood, and trickery. Significantly in the context of the history of Auschwitz, the most notorious symbol of the atrocity story was the gruesome account of the Kadeververwerkungsanstalt (corpse exploitation establishment), operated behind the front lines by the DAVG-Deutsche Abfall-Verwertungs Geselschafft (German Offal Utilization Company inc.). This is the manner in which George Sylvester Viereck described the origin of the story in his Spreading Germs of Hate (1930)

    “By Jove!” Brigadier General J.V. Charteris exclaimed. He whistled softly. The Chief of the British Army of Intelligence was fingering a series of photographs. Chuckling to himself he summoned his orderly.

    A uniformed youth answered the summons.

    “Bring me,” the Chief asked, “a pair of shears and a paste pot.”

    Charteris, his face one broad grin, was comparing two pictures captured from Germans. The first was a vivid reproduction of a harrowing scene, showing the dead bodies of German soldiers being hauled away for burial behind the lines. The second picture depicted dead horses on their way to the factory where German ingenuity extracted soap and oil from the carcasses. The inspiration to change the caption of the two pictures came to General Charteris like a flash.

    When the orderly arrived, the General dexterously used the shears and pasted the inscription “German cadavers on Their Way to the Soap Factory” under the picture of the dead German soldiers. Within twenty-four hours the picture was in the mail pouch for Shanghai.

    This is the genesis of the most perfect specimen in our collection of atrocity stories. The explanation was vouchsafed by General Charteris himself in 1926, at a dinner at the National Arts Club, New York City. It met with diplomatic denial later on, but is generally accepted.

    General Charteris dispatched the picture to China to revolt public opinion against the Germans. The reverence of the Chinese for the dead amounts to worship. The profanation of the dead ascribed to the Germans was one of the factors responsible for the Chinese declaration of war against the Central Powers.

    General Charteris did not believe that the story would be taken seriously anywhere outside China.115

    In fact, it was taken seriously. Charteris’s account of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt appeared in The Times on 17 April 1917. Its source, so the editorial introduction claimed, was a Belgian newspaper published in England, which in turn had received it from another Belgian newspaper published in neutral Holland.

    The factory is invisible from the railway. It is placed deep in forest country, with a specially thick growth of trees about it. Live wires surround it. A special double track leads to it. The works are about 700 ft. long and 110 ft. broad, and the railway runs completely around them. In the north-west corner of the works the discharge of the trains takes place.

    The trains arrive full of bare bodies, which are unloaded by workers who live at the works. The men wear oilskin overalls and masks with mica eye-pieces. They are equipped with long hooked poles, and push bundles of bodies to an endless chain, which picks them with big hooks, attached at intervals of 2 ft. The bodies are transported on this endless chain into a long, narrow compartment, where they pass through a bath which disinfects them. They then go through a drying chamber, and finally are automatically carried into a digester or great cauldron, in which they are dropped by an apparatus which detaches them from the chain. In the digester they remain for six to eight hours, and are treated by steam, which breaks them up while they are slowly stirring the machinery.

    From this treatment result several procedures. The fats are broken up into stearin, a form of tallow, and oils, which require to be redistilled before they can be used. The process of distillation is carried out by boiling the oil with carbonate of soda, and some of the by-products resulting from this are used by German soap makers. The oil distillery and refinery lie in the south-eastern corner of the works. The refined oil is sent out in small casks like those used for petroleum, and is of yellowish brown colour.116

    It was a lie, but it was plausible, and it was incapable of complete refutation during the war. In the weeks that followed The Times published many letters that seemed to corroborate the account. On April 25 the satirical magazine Punch included a cartoon entitled “Cannon-Fodder–and After,” showing the Kaiser and a German recruit. Pointing out of a window to a factory with smoking chimneys and the signs “Kadaververwerkungs[anstalt],” the Kaiser tells the young man: “And don’t forget that your Kaiser will find a use for you–alive or dead.”117 On April 30 the issue was raised in the House of Commons, but the government refused to endorse the news. In the months that followed, the account of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt gained international circulation but, remarkably enough, never expanded beyond the few lines printed in The Times No eye-witnesses ever appeared, nor did any report amplify the original report. By the end of the war, the story of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt died, only to be revived by General Charteris in an after-dinner speech at the National Arts Club in New York. On his return to Great Britain, Charteris denied that he had claimed authorship for the story, but enough passions were raised to make the story once more a topic of discussion in the House of Commons. On December 2, 1925, Sir Austen Chamberlain declared in Parliament that “the Chancellor of the German Reich has authorized me to say, on the authority of the German Government, that there was never any foundation to it. I need scarcely add that on behalf of His Majesty’s Government I accept this denial, and I trust that this false report will not again be revived.”118 Finally, in 1928, the legend of the corpse factories was put to rest in Ponsonby’s Falsehood in War-Time.119

    The long term effect of stories that told of human clappers in Belgian towers or human bodies used as raw material for the production of soap was that few were prepared to be fooled once again by such a fabrication. Indeed, during the late 1930s and 1940s most people tended to disbelieve anything that did not fit their customary, liberal view of the world. The English historian Tony Kushner described this resistance in his excellent The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination (1994). Before the war German Jewish refugees were often not believed when they told what had happened to them. The physician Dr. Ludwig Gutmann, one-time director of the Jewish hospital in Breslau, recorded that when he told his acquaintance the philosopher Professor F.A. Lindemann of the events of Kristallnacht, the latter “somewhat sneeringly interrupted me, saying ‘You must not tell me atrocity legends.'”120 And Lindemann was a staunch anti-Nazi.

    The fear to be taken in once more by atrocity propaganda combined often with an either latent or even open antisemitism within mainstream British society. The case of the widely read author Douglas Reed is particularly interesting. The correspondent of The Times in Berlin in the early 1930s, Reed published extremely popular accounts of the rapid developments in Central European politics, and predicted, among other things, the Austrian Anschluss and the course of the Czechoslovakian crisis that was to end with Hitler’s absorption of the Czech lands within the Reich. As a result, Reed was widely perceived as one of the very few Englishmen with any understanding of Hitler’s Germany.

    Disgrace Abounding (1939) proved one of Reed’s most popular books, and it did not only describe Hitler’s machinations to fool the English and French governments, but also the manner in which the Jews had been able to draw attention to their suffering in the British media. According to Reed, the suffering of the Jews under Hitler was negligible compared with the “holocaust” of the Chinese under Japanese occupation. “In China nearly a million men had been killed or disabled– killed or disabled, nearly a million men–and the Japanese had butchered several tens of thousands of civilians and had rendered destitute and homeless some 30,000,000 more.”121 Yet the British government had paid scarcely any attention to that suffering. Instead, they were concerned about the fate of the German Jews.

    Just as the Jews tend to monopolize the callings and professions into which they penetrate, when there is no anti-Semitism, so did I find them monopolizing compassion and succour when there was anti-Semitism, and as their numbers are small compared with the great mass of non-Jews who are suffering from brutality and persecution in our times, I thought this to be the old evil, the squeeze-out of non-Jews, breaking out in a new place.

    The organized Jewish communities in the countries where anti-Semitism exists, or which it is approaching, have complete command of the technique of enlisting foreign help and sympathy. They understand it; this looking across the frontiers is in their blood. If a group of twenty Jews is put into no-man’s land, the British and American Legations and Consulates in the nearest capital are stormed, the British newspaper offices too, the next day the entire British and American Press rings with the story, photographs appear, bishops write letters, committees get busy, soon the Jews are released and are on their way to a new land.

    Not far away 300 or 400 non-Jewish refugees may be starving in a hut. They have no organized community to care for them, to raid the Legations and newspaper offices on their behalf, nobody visits them, nobody knows that they are there or cares about them. They may rot.122

    Reed repeated the same litany at various other places in the same book. It was, obviously, very important to him.

    During the war reports of German atrocities were commonly interpreted at best as exaggerations. Time mockingly referred to news from Poland as “the ‘atrocity’ story of the week,”123 and when the Polish government-in-exile published in March 1940 a long report of the Nazi policy of terror in German-occupied Poland, one American editorial felt the need to warn its readers that, twenty years earlier, “a great many of the atrocity stories which were so well attested and so strenuously told, so indignantly believed and so commonly repeated, were found to be absolute fakes.”124 When in April 1940 the British Foreign Office received a fully corroborated account of Jewish life in German-occupied Poland, Assistant Under-Secretary Reginald Leeper dismissed the report. “As a general rule Jews are inclined to magnify their persecutions,” Leeper commented. “I remember the exaggerated stories of Jewish pogroms in Poland after the last war which, when fully examined, were found to have little substance.”125 Three years later, when the British government had become well aware of the mass extermination of Jews, senior Foreign Office officials still refused to believe what they knew.

    The attitude of Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was typical. He believed that Polish and Jewish sources were unreliable because they had a vested interest in exaggerating German atrocities. Therefore, as late as the summer of 1943, Cavendish-Bentinck opposed the British government to make, at the allied conference in Quebec, a public statement about the systematic gassing of Jews.

    It is true that there have been references to the use of gas chambers in other reports; but these references have usually, if not always, been equally vague, and since they have concerned the extermination of Jews, have usually emanated from Jewish sources.

    Personally, I have never really understood the advantage of the gas chamber over the simple machine gun, or the equally simple starvation method. These stories may or may not be true, but in any event I submit we are putting out a statement on evidence which is far from conclusive, and which we have no means of assessing.126

    On August 27, 1943, Cavendish Bentinck made the following observation:

    In my opinion it is incorrect to describe Polish information regarding German atrocities as “trustworthy”. The Poles, and to a far greater extent the Jews, tend to exaggerate German atrocities in order to stoke us up. They seem to have succeeded….

    I think that we weaken our case against the Germans by publically giving credence to atrocity stories for which we have no evidence. These mass executions in gas chambers remind me of the stories of employment of human corpses during the last war for the manufacture of fat, which was a grotesque lie and led to the true stories of German enormities being brushed aside as being mere propaganda.127

    And so one of the most senior officials in the Foreign Office refused to believe what should have become obvious by then. Tragically the noble intentions of Ponsonby’s book had such unintended negative consequences.

    Douglas Reed added his own voice in his popular Lest We Regret(1943). Reed assumed that the purpose of all the millions of Jews in Europe was to leave for Britain, and that the only reason the British government would let them in was because of their persecution at the hands of the Nazis. If that persecution would stop, the door to Britain would be closed too. This, Reed argued in 1943, was the condition that led to all the talk about the German extermination of the Jews in late 1942.

    In November 1942 a great campaign began about the “extermination” of the Jews. At that very moment the prospect of our victory first loomed distinct. The Eight Army conquered Libya; Italy showed signs of distress; the Germans failed to take Stalingrad; that Germany would be beaten, possibly even in 1943, became clear (and I wrote a play foretelling Hitler’s disappearance).

    Victory, then approached. If it came, and found those Jews still in Europe, they would remain there. If they were to leave Europe (if “the problem” was to be solved by transferring it to us) they would need to come away before Victory arrived. Also, the British Government had suspended immigration to Palestine. The “extermination” campaign began. The power which this particular interest wields over our public spokesmen and Press stands revealed as gigantic. Some newspapers gave more space to this matter than would be devoted to any other in any circumstances which I can imagine. The word “extermination” was printed billions of times. It was used habitually, without flinching, by Ministers, politicians and the B.B.C. Any who care to keep note of the things which were said, and to compare them in a few years’ time with the facts and figures, will possess proof of the greatest example of mass-misinformation in history. All sound of the suffering of the non-Jews who are Germany’s captives was drowned.128

    These words initiated a very-long rant against the statements of the government, the clergy, the editors and all others about Hitler’s policy regarding the Jews. Reed knew better. “I saw Hitler’s work with my own eyes, from the day he came to power until the eve of this war,” he claimed. “Nineteen-twentieth of the inmates of his concentration camps were non-Jewish Germans; nineteen-twentieth of his victims outside the German frontiers are non-Jewish non-Germans.”129 And then he juxtaposed all the contradictory information coming from Europe and all the contradictory statements about them by politicians, and subjected them to a mocking analysis.

    Readers may compare these quotations for themselves. “Extermination was ordered; it was not ordered, but strongly suspected; it was ordered for half the Jews in Poland; for all the Jews in Poland; for all the Jews in Europe by the end of 1942. Two out of three-and-half million were already dead, on December 4th; one million out of seven million were already dead, on the same day; 250,000 were already dead, three weeks later. Thus spoke our leading men.130

    Reed refused to believe it. He claimed to be better informed than most people making public statements about the extermination of Jews and observed that “I know of no ‘oft-proclaimed intentions’ or ‘orders’ to exterminate the Jews.” He added that “Hitler is noticeably reticent on that theme,” reserving his threats for the British, the Bolsheviks, “and other things” such as the “Czechs, Poles, and Serbs.”131

    Reed’s rants were exceptionally virulent in their antisemitism, but nevertheless fitted neatly in the general reticence to give validity to the stories about Jewish suffering in Europe. Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee in Britain, expressed often in public his great frustration with the English unwillingness to believe the news that trickled in from Poland. “The trouble with being a contemporary in times like this,” Koestler said in a broadcast talk, “is that reality beats the imagination every step…. For an educated Englishman it is almost easier to imagine conditions of life under King Canute on this island than conditions of life in, say, contemporary Poland.”132 In an article published in early 1944 in the New York Times Magazine, Koestler lamented how so very few were prepared to believe the reports of the exterminations. Nothing seemed to make a difference.

    At present we have the mania of trying to tell you about the killing, by hot steam, mass electrocution and live burial of the total Jewish population of Europe. So far three million have died. It is the greatest mass-killing in recorded history; and it goes on daily, hourly, as regularly as the ticking of your watch. I have photographs before me on the desk while I am writing this, and that accounts for my emotion and bitterness. People died to smuggle them out of Poland; they thought it was worthwhile. The facts have been published in pamphlets, White Books, newspapers, magazine and whatnot. But the other day I met one of the best-known American journalists over here. He told me that in the course of some recent public opinion survey nine out of ten average American citizens, when asked whether they believed that the Nazis commit atrocities, answered that it was all propaganda lies, and that they didn’t believe a word of it. As to this country, I have been lecturing now for three years to the troops, and their attitude is the same. They don’t believe in concentration camps, they don’t believe in the starved children of Greece, in the shot hostages of France, in the mass-graves of Poland; they have never heard of Lidice, Treblinka, or Belzec; you can convince them for an hour, then they shake themselves, their mental self-defence begins to work and in a week the shrug of incredulity has returned like a reflex temporarily weakened by the shock.

    Clearly all this is becoming a mania with me and my like. Clearly we must suffer from some morbid obsession, whereas you others are healthy and normal. But the characteristic symptom of maniacs is that they lose contact with reality and live in a phantasy world. So, perhaps, it is the other way around: perhaps it is we, the screamers, who react in a sound and healthy way to the reality which surrounds us, whereas you are the neurotics who totter about in a screened phantasy world because you lack the faculty to face the facts. Were it not so, this war would have been avoided, and those murdered within sight of your day- dreaming eyes would still be alive.133

    Koestler did not mention names, but he could well have thought about Bill Lawrence, the New York Times correspondent in the Soviet Union. When, for example, Lawrence reported in the Fall of 1943 on the mass killing of Jews in Babi Yar near Kiev, he employed a language not much different from that used today by more sophisticated negationists. After mentioning that “Kiev authorities asserted today that the Germans had machinegunned from 50,000 to 80,000 of Kiev’s Jewish men, women and children in late September 1941,” Lawrence made it absolutely clear that he regarded the claim with great scepticism.

    On the basis of what we saw, it is impossible for this correspondent to judge the truth or falsity of the story told to us. It is the contention of the authorities in Kiev that the Germans, with characteristic thoroughness, not only burned the bodies and clothing, but also crumbled the bones, and shot and burned the bodies of all prisoners of war participating in the burning, except for the handful that escaped, so that the evidence of their atrocity could not be available for the outside world. If this was the Germans’ intent, they succeeded well, for there is little evidence in the ravine to prove or disprove the story.134

    After the war Lawrence showed considerable embarrassment about his scepticism, and explained it as a direct result of the atrocity propaganda of the First World war.

    I grew up in the generation between the two world wars–a generation which had a natural scepticism and inherent disbelief of all wartime atrocity stories. In our most formative years, we had found out that the propagandists for the Western Allies, including our own government, had fabricated some of the most lurid tales of German behavior to arouse their people to wartime fervor….So by the time I headed off to war in 1943, I was unsure just what to believe of all the stories I had heard and read coming out of Europe about Hitler, his SS troops, and the Nazi armies as they marched east across Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and into the Soviet Union. I had no doubt that Hitler had treated the Jews badly, forcing many of them to flee to the sanctuaries in the West, including the United States. But I was not prepared for, and in my mind did not at first accept, the systematic extermination campaign that Hitler and his minions had conducted.135

    Lawrence related at length his interrogation of the principal witness, Efim Vilknis, but as it defied credulity, and as there was no supporting evidence, he remained sceptical. Even the fact that the Kiev Jewish community, which had counted more than 100,000 persons before the war, had disappeared, did not help him change his mind. He acknowledged that it was odd that there were no Jews left in Kiev, but he was only prepared to say that “where and how they had departed remained a mystery.”136

    Even when the war came to an end and the allied armies liberated the camps their remained a great resistance to face the facts. One of the 500 diarists, who kept a daily record for the English social survey organization Mass Observation, wrote after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen that the revelations were beyond belief.

    I have not forgotten the recent controversy over the last war atrocity stories, and to me they have always smacked of propaganda–the Germans are our enemies, therefore we must hate the Germans, so additional evidence must be given us to whip up this hatred…. Cruelty has obviously been one of the trade marks of Nazism ever since 1933….It is hard to believe, however, that this mass cruelty has been perpetrated on so many thousands of victims.137

    General Dwight D. Eisenhower made it his business to change such attitudes. Immediately after the liberation of the concentration camp at Ohrdruf he visited it, as he wrote to his superior General Marshall on April 15, “in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.'”138 He cabled Marshall on April 19 the proposal to give others the opportunity to do the same.

    We continue to uncover German concentration camps for political prisoners in which conditions of indescribable horror prevail. I have visited one of these myself and I assure you that whatever has been printed on them to date has been understatements. If you would see any advantage in asking about a dozen leaders of Congress and a dozen prominent editors to make a short visit to this theater in a couple of C-54’s, I will arrange to have them conducted to one of these places where the evidence of brutality and cruelty is so overpowering as to leave no doubts in their minds about the normal practices of the Germans in these camps.139

    President Truman accepted Eisenhower’s proposal, and on April 22 a plane left Washington for Weimar via Paris with six senators and six representatives. The next day a plane with a similar destination left New York. On board were 18 prominent American journalists. Many were sceptical. Malcolm W. Bingay, editor-in-chief of the Detroit Free Press admitted a month later in a meeting at the Economic Club of Detroit that he was “frankly sceptical about the atrocity charges. Having lived through the first world war, I realized too many of them had been exploded as myths and I went over in the attitude of ‘being from Missouri.'”140 Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, also changed his mind.

    I came here in a suspicious frame of mind, feeling that I would find that many of the terrible reports that have been printed in the United States before I left were exaggerations, and largely propaganda, comparable to reports of crucifixions and amputations of hands which followed the last war, and which subsequently proved to be untrue. It is my grim duty to report that the descriptions of the horrors of the camp, one of many which have been and which will be uncovered by the Allied armies have given less than the whole truth. They have been understatements.141

    Responding to such reports, the American Society of Newspaper Editors felt that it was time to address the issue directly. In an article entitled “Reflections on Atrocities,” published in the Bulletin of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Gideon Seymour argued that the press should be prepared for possible difficulties in the months ahead.

    For when the American prisoners of war get back and say that they and their colleagues were fairly well treated, except for underfeeding, and that few or none of their numbers experienced such brutalities as have been reported from Dachau, Buchenwald, Ohrdruf, etc., a lot of Americans are going to say, “Well then all those atrocities stories were bunk and propaganda.”142

    Therefore journalists should take care to make careful distinction in their reports between prisoner- of-war camps and concentration camps.

    In the end even the most stalwart supporters of the thesis that all the stories about the systematic extermination of the Jews had been merely atrocity propaganda had to face the facts for what they were. The American magazine The Christian Century, which in 1944 had still chided American news papers for giving much attention to the discoveries made by the Soviets in Maidanek–claiming at the time that the “parallel between this story and the ‘corpse factory’ atrocity tale was too striking to be overlooked”143–had to (hesitantly) admit in 1945 that it had been wrong, and that the parallel did not hold.

    We have found it hard to believe that the reports from the Nazi concentration camps could be true. Almost desperately we have tried to think that they must be widely exaggerated. Perhaps they were products of the fevered brains of prisoners who were out for revenge. Or perhaps they were just more atrocity-mongering like the cadaver factory story of the last war. But such puny barricades cannot stand up against the terrible facts. The evidence is too conclusive. It will be a long, long time before our eyes will cease to see those pictures of naked corpses piled like firewood or of those mounds of carrion flesh and bones. It will be a long time before we can forget what scores of honorable, competent observers tell us they have seen with their own eyes. The thing is well-nigh incredible. But it happened.144

    When even The Christian Century admitted that it had been wrong, it seemed that the world was finally ready for the truth.

    For a week or so group after group arrived at the gates of Buchenwald, and by the beginning of May even Eisenhower felt that enough was enough. He wrote to Marshall that “if America is not now convinced, in view of the disinterested witnesses we have already brought over, it would be almost hopeless to convince them through bringing anyone else.”145 A week later, on May 9, General Bradley curtailed all visits to the camps with a cable to headquarters.

    Buchenwald concentration has been cleaned up, the sick segregated and burials completed to such an extent that very little evidence of atrocities remains.

    This negatives any educational value of having various groups visit the camp to secure first hand information of German atrocities. In fact, many feel quite skeptical that previous conditions actually existed.

    Suggest that further visits [to] camp be discontinued.146

    The allies faced the paradox that their very efforts to improve the situation in the liberated camps created, once more, the possibility for some to argue that everything had been just atrocity propaganda.

    Indeed, for all the full page photos of the camps that had become available, the camps never were admitted to reality. Theodor Adorno brought this problem in philosophical focus at the time that Bradley closed Buchenwald for guided tours. Visits or not: it would not make much of a difference. Something had come to pass which had changed the whole perception of what is a lie, and what is truth.

    When the National Socialists began to torture, they not only terrorized the peoples inside and outside Germany, but were the more secure from exposure the more wildly the horror increased. The implausibility of their actions made it easy to disbelieve what nobody, for the sake of precious peace, wanted to believe, while at the same time capitulating to it. Trembling voices persuade themselves that, after all, there is much exaggeration: even after the outbreak of the war, details about the concentration camps were unwanted in the English press. Every horror becomes, in the enlightened world, a horrific fairy-tale.147

    And Adorno observed that, with the war’s end, the situation that had existed before the Nazis had begun to confound truth and lies had not been restored. As lying had come to sound like truth, and truth sounded like lying, it had become “a labour of Sisyphus to hold on to the simplest piece of knowledge.” And Adorno concluded, with melancholy: “So Hitler, of whom no-one can say whether he died or escaped, survives.”148

    In 1948 the American Judge Michael A. Musmanno, who had served on Nuremberg Military Tribunal II to hear the case against Oswald Pohl and other members of the SS Wirtschafts-und Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Main Department), concluded that, after having sat through 194 sessions of the tribunal, reviewed 1,348 different pieces of written evidence and 511 affidavits, listened to 48 witnesses and testimonies by the defendants, the world of the death camps was still beyond comprehension. In his concurring opinion, Musmanno observed that, when writing of the extermination of the Jews, “the ink runs heavy, the words falter, and a sadness akin to a hopeless resignation enters the soul.”

    How can one write about a planned and calculated killing of a human race? It is a concept so completely fantastic and so devoid of sense that one simply does not want to hear about it and is inclined to turn a deaf ear to such arrant nonsense. Barbarous tribes in the wilds of South Pacific jungles have fallen upon other tribes and destroyed their every member; in America, Indian massacres have wiped out caravans and destroyed whole settlements and communities; but that an enlightened people in the 20th century should set out to exterminate, one by one, another enlightened people, not in battle, not by frenzied mobbing, but by calculated gassing, burning, shooting, poisoning is simply blood-curdling fiction, fit companion for H.G. Well’s chimera on the invasion from Mars.

    Adolf Eichmann, chief of the Jewish section of the Gestapo, estimated that the Hitler-Himmler extermination policy of the Jews resulted in the liquidation of 6,000,000 Jews, of which 4,000,000 were killed in extermination institutions. The murder of 6,000,0000 human beings is entirely beyond the capacity of man’s imagination and one instinctively refuses to believe. But the curtain of incredulity has lifted and the armor of incomprehensibility no longer protects. The evidence is in and what was utter fantasy and a mere macabre playing with numbers, is proved fact. The figure 6,000,000 is written in digits of blood, and no matter which way one turns their crimson horror is upon one.149

    Fifty years later when Auschwitz has become an accepted part of our intellectual landscape, it is good to remember that, perhaps, the world of the camps ought to have remained within a somewhat forbidden realm. Although the plethora of movies, memoirs, novels, and media revelations about the Holocaust have brought words such as “Auschwitz,” “The Six Million” and so on into daily currency and household usage, the mere fact of their familiarity does not connote their fathomability.

    The foregoing consideration demonstrates that there is no historical justification to judge and dismiss the accounts of German atrocities during the Second World War within the context of the atrocity propaganda of the First World War. The attitude of the public of 1939-45 was radically different from that 25 years earlier, and it is clear that any attempt to generate the kind of propaganda symbolized by the notorious Kadaververwerkungsanstalt would have merely generated mockery. To understand the difference in the way people experienced these two wars, it is important to remember that the sudden, all-devouring fire of the First World War caught people, who had experienced more than a century of peace and progress, by surprise. No-one could really explain why the war had come, and why it ought to be fought. There was so little relation between the trifle of Sarajevo and the cataclysm of Verdun. Tens of millions of men, coerced into the mass armies, faced incredible suffering amidst a general unintelligibility of events caused by a senseless, overwhelming force. Facing death without knowing why, the demoralized and dejected men who fought in the trenches lost their self-respect. In such circumstances, values collapsed: as the individual act had become irrelevant and individual judgement impossible, the distinction between truth and lie, fiction and reality had become obsolete. Manufacturing useful lies such as the stories of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt was no better nor worse than the generals’ practice to mask the defeat of their strategies by sacrificing some extra armies in order to steal a very small local success that can be trumpeted as a major victory.

    The Second World War was different. Instead of confusion there was resolve. From the very beginning, the allies knew that the war would be grim. “No one can predict, no one can even imagine, how this terrible war against German and Nazi aggression will run its course or how far it will spread or how long it will last,” Churchill told the House of Commons on October 8, 1940–in the midst of the Blitz against London.

    Long, dark months of trials and tribulations lie before us. Not only great dangers, but also many misfortunes, many shortcomings, many mistakes, many disappointments will surely be our lot. Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield. We must be united, we must be undaunted, we must be inflexible. Our qualities and deeds must burn and glow through the gloom of Europe until they become the veritable beacon of its salvation.150

    Fighting Hitler under the inspired leadership of men like Churchill and Roosevelt, the allies had no need for atrocity propaganda. In the case of England, Churchill expressed his superb and passionate historical imagination with the consciousness that his words, and those spoken by all Englishmen, would remain the object of scrutiny and judgement to many generations–“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This Was their finest hour.'”151 Evoking a dramatic image of what England was, and giving surprisingly little attention to what Germany had become, Churchill was able to mobilize a nation without the need to engage in the very kind of all-too-easily dismissable atrocity propaganda that the weak leaders in the First World War found necessary to employ to bolster morale. “The Prime Minister was able to impose his imagination and his will upon his countrymen, and enjoy his Periclean reign, precisely because he appeared to them larger and nobler than life and lifted them to an abnormal height in a moment of crisis,” Isaiah Berlin wrote in a review of Churchill’s war memoirs. Churchill’s dramatic language “did turn a large number of inhabitants of the British Isles out of their normal selves and, by dramatising their lives and making them seem to themselves and to each other clad in the fabulous garments appropriate to a great historic moment, transformed cowards into brave men, and so fulfilled the purpose of shining armour.” And Berlin continued with the following important observation:

    This is the kind of means by which dictators and demagogues transform peaceful populations into marching armies; it was Churchill’s unique and unforgettable achievement that he created this necessary illusion within the framework of a free system without destroying or even twisting it; that he called forth spirits which did not stay to oppress and enslave the population after the hour of need had passed.152

    Indeed, if the caricature of the Kadaververwerkungsanstalt was the legacy of allied propaganda of the First World War–a legacy that continues to embarrass–, the bold and dramatic language of Churchill became the legacy of the Second World War–a language that, almost sixty years later, still never fails to inspire.

    Let us return now to the war-time revelations about Auschwitz. In November 1941, that is before Auschwitz had been assigned a central role in the Holocaust, the first substantial information about a concentration camp in Oswiecim became available to the public. The 32nd issue of the Polish Fortnightly Review an English-language newspaper published by the Polish government-in-exile, carried a 2,000-word long article entitled “Oswiecim Concentration Camp.” It described the camp as the largest concentration camp in Poland, and provided much detail about its extraordinarily violent regime. According to the article, the mortality rate had reached in the winter of 1940/41 an average of 1 per cent per day, and a peak of 2 per cent per day. During this time, the article continued, “three crematorium furnaces were insufficient to cope with the bodies to be cremated.”153

    One account described the violence of life and death in the camp in a particularly graphic manner.

    It happened one day that a prisoner ate two portions of dinner. When it was discovered he was led out before the entrance gate, near the crematorium. By the gate two rows of guards with knouts were lined up. One of them told the prisoner that as he had shown so much ingenuity and cleverness in eating an additional portion, he was to be released. The gate was open, and he could run into freedom. But as stealing was a punishable offence, he must first run the gauntlet of the two rows of guards. He started to run between the lines, being beaten mercilessly on the head and legs with the knouts. Near the end of the line he began to stagger, but he summoned all his strength and ran out through the gate. Then a machine-gun opened fire, and he was wounded in the belly. The guards called to a man with a wheelbarrow working close by, threw the wounded man on the barrow and ordered him to be taken to the crematorium. The prisoner was sufficiently conscious to see where he was being taken, and in a frenzy of despair tried to say something to the crowd of guards watching the sight. But they only laughed and made their way to the crematorium.

    There he was thrown in the furnace, where there were already two half-burnt bodies. The sight of his struggles aroused only jeers and laughter among the onlookers. The two guards in charge of the crematorium were ordered to divide the ashes into three, as the last victim had moved and so had disturbed the ashes of the other bodies.154

    The Polish Fortnightly Review continued to provide updates about the situation in Auschwitz as information became available. In its issue of July 1, 1942 it described the camp in an article entitled “Documents from Poland: German Attempts to Murder a Nation.” Again, Auschwitz was characterized as a particularly violent camp. It mentioned a second camp.

    In addition to the main camp, built near Oswiecim, there is an additional camp near by, in which the brutalities are so terrible that people die there quicker than they would have done in the main camp. The prisoners call this supplementary camp “Paradisal” (presumably because from it there is only one road, leading to Paradise). The crematorium here is five times as large as the one in the main camp. The prisoners of both camps are finished off in three main ways: by excessive labour, by torture, and by medical means.155

    This “paradisal” camp was, in all probability, Birkenau, which had been established in the Fall of 1941, and which in the spring of 1942 had received its first inmates. Contrary to the report, Birkenau did not at that time have a crematorium. A large crematorium, many times the size of the one in the main camp, had been designed and approved, but construction had not yet really started. It is unclear if the reference to the crematorium arose from knowledge of the blueprints.

    The report listed various popular forms of torture, and mentioned that German doctors used inmates as guinea pigs for medical experiments in the camp. Of particular interest, in view of later developments, was a short discussion of a German experiment to gas inmates.

    Among the other experiments being tried on the prisoners is the use of poison gas. It is generally known that during the night of September 5th to 6th last year about a thousand people were driven down to the underground shelter in Oswiecim, among them seven hundred Bolshevik prisoners of war and three hundred Poles. As the shelter was too small to hold this large number, the living bodies were simply forced in, regardless of broken bones. When the shelter was full gas was injected into it, and all the prisoners died during the night. All night the rest of the camp was kept awake by the groans and howls coming from the shelter. Next day other prisoners had to carry out the bodies, a task which took all day. One hand-cart on which the bodies were being removed broke down under the weight.156

    It is important to note that, after the war, various witnesses confirmed that in early September the Germans had used Block 11 as an experimental gas chamber.157

    Two weeks later the Polish Fortnightly Review paid attention to Auschwitz once more. It noted the excessive mortality due to the rigors of the camp, and contained in a report on a press conference given by the Polish Minister of Home Affairs Mr. S. Mikolajczyk a reference to the ever increasing size of the inmate population.158 It also reported on statements given during the same press conference by two members of the Polish National Council on the extermination of Polish Jewry, and a final remark by the Polish Minister of Information that at least 700,000 Polish Jews had died since the beginning of the war. Yet at this time the concentration camp system and the emerging Holocaust were not yet brought into connection.

    Only later that year did the Polish Fortnightly Review begin to mention camps as a execution sites of Jews. Many reports had reached the Polish government-in-exile about deportations from the Warsaw ghetto. In the fall of 1942 a eye-witness of the fate of the deportees had made his way to England. The Polish underground fighter Jan Kozielewski (better known by his underground name Jan Karski), had visited an extermination camp at Belzec disguised as a Latvian policeman, and witnessed the destruction of a transport. In England, Karski informed the Polish government-in- exile, and as a result the Polish Fortnightly Review published on December 1, 1942 as its main item an article entitled “Extermination of Polish Jewry.” It reported that the Warsaw ghetto had been subject to daily deportations of 7,000 people per day since July 24. Those who were too ill to travel were killed on the spot, or at the Jewish cemetery. The others were loaded in trains.

    The deportees were carried off to three execution camps, at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor. Here the trains were unloaded, the condemned were stripped naked and then killed, probably by poison gas or electrocution. For the purpose of burying the bodies a great bulldozer has been taken to Treblinka, and this machine works without stopping. The stench of the decomposing bodies has nauseated all the peasants for three miles around and forced them to flight. In addition to Treblinka, there are also camps at Belzec and Sobibor. It has not been possible to ascertain whether any of those who have been carried off have been left alive. We have information only of extermination.159

    Remarkably enough, the Polish Fortnightly Review did not publish part of Karski’s observations at Belzec, but chose to print as an annex to the report an earlier description of the “Jew- extermination Camp at Belzec.” It was dated July 10, 1942, and was obviously based on hearsay.

    When a trainload of Jews arrives at the station in Belzec, it is shunted by a side track up to the wire surrounding the place of execution at which point there is a change in the engine crew and train guards. From the wire onward the train is serviced by German drivers who take it to the unloading point where the track ends. After unloading, the men go to a barracks on the right, the women to a barracks situated on the left, where they strip, ostensibly in readiness for a bath. After they have undressed both groups go to a third barracks where there is an electrified plate, where the executions are carried out. Then the bodies are taken by train to a trench situated outside the wire, and some thirty metres deep. This trench was dug by Jews, who were all executed afterwards.160

    In the summer of 1942, when the report was written, no-one who was not part of the execution team had left Belzec alive, and thus the description of the method of killing was largely based on rumour.

    After drawing attention to the fate of the Jews in the Polish Fortnightly Review the Polish government-in-exile issued on December 10, 1942 a note to the other allies concerning the mass extermination of Jews in Poland, repeating in substance the information from the article.161 In all this publicity, the names of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka appeared again and again, but there was silence about Auschwitz. This can be explained because, up to the late fall of 1942, Auschwitz did not play a significant role in the liquidation of Polish Jewry. In the summer and fall of 1942 the majority of transports had come from France, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Belgium, and Yugoslavia, and it can be understood why these escaped the attention of the Polish government-in-exile.

    It is more difficult to understand why the Polish government-in-exile decided not to act on a report broadcast in March 1943 by a secret radio station operated by the Polish resistance and received in London.

    The statistics for Oswiecim from the establishment of the camp until December 15 [1942] show that more than 640,000 people perished there, with 30,000 still alive. 65,000 Poles have been executed, hanged, tortured, gassed, or have died from starvation and disease with 17,000 still alive. More than 26,000 Soviet POW’s have been liquidated; 100 still alive. More than 520,000 Jews have been gassed, including 20,000 from Poland, and the rest from France, Belgium, Holland, Yugoslavia, etc. 6,800 women are alive, mainly Poles, 19,000 have died. Only a portion are registered in the camp records. Thousands are dying without being identified–e.g. Almost all Jews.162

    The Polish government-in-exile was one of only two organizations that had both the wish and the means to systematically monitor the camps in Poland. The second organization that received information about the camps on a systematic basis was British intelligence. Beginning in 1941, the Government Code and Cypher School, which trained intelligence officers, had begun to monitor, decipher and process the German police cyphers. Its main reason was that the hand cyphers of the German police and SS formed good raw material for the training of new decoders, and also provided insight in the strategically more important cyphers used by the German army. Furthermore the information obtained provided important data about anti-partisan activities. From the spring of 1942 until February 1943, the Government Code and Cypher School also intercepted crypted radio messages sent by the administration of the concentration camps to Berlin. These included reports from Auschwitz, but not from Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.163 In a post-war history of this operation, the British historian F.H. Hinsley mentioned that “[t]he daily return consisted of a series of unheaded, unexplained columns of figures,” which were interpreted by the students of the Government Code and Cypher School as information about “(a)number of inmates at the start of the previous day, (b) new arrivals, (c) departures by any means, and (d) number at the end of the previous day.” Departures by any means was interpreted as a euphemism for deaths. “The returns from Auschwitz, the largest of the camps with 20,000 prisoners, mentioned illness as the main cause of death but included references to shootings and hangings. There were no references in the decrypts to gassings.”164

    A summary of intercepted messages for the month of August, 1942, includes the following item:

    Reports on deaths in German prison camps during August reveal the following figures:
    • AUSCHWITZ:6829 men,1525 women;
    • BUCHENWALD:74.(1/9)

    A message of 4/9, in reply to a request for 1000 prisoners for building the DANUBE railway, states that AUSCHWITZ cannot provide them until the “ban” (Lagersperre)on the AUSCHWITZ camp has been lifted. It appears that although typhus is still rife at AUSCHWITZ, new arrivals continue to come in.

    As from 1/9/42, “natural deaths” among prisoners in Concentration Camps are to be reported apparently only in writing (durch Formblatt).165

    The decrypt revealed that the mortality in Auschwitz was about a hundred times that of the large concentration camp at Buchenwald, but also suggested that the main cause of death was typhus. Indeed: the great majority of the 6,829 men and 1,525 women who died in Auschwitz in August 1942 were struck down by disease. It must be remembered, however, that the mortality figures which the concentration camps sent to Berlin only applied to the deaths of registered prisoners, and not to the gassing of deportees who were selected after arrival for immediate extermination. This was made clear after the war during the trial of the head of the central administration of the SS, Oswald Pohl. He was examined in detail about the information he received from the camps about the death rate of the inmates. These, he told the court, were assembled in charts.

    [Judge Musmanno ]: “Then you did know how many people were dying in the concentration camps?”
    [Pohl ]: “Yes. I did.”
    Q.: “And when you saw the number increasing, did you do anything about it?”
    A.: “Of course I did. That development was always dependent on the development of the diseases. I inquired what diseases actually prevailed there,what measures had been taken in order to eliminate a steady increase of these diseases. The diseases, epidemic diseases, were usually the reason for the deaths, and they depended on the time or on the epidemic that prevailed at the time. In these curves we could not see all the deaths which occurred through the measures of the Reich Security Main Office or the Reich Government. I only dealt with the inmates who were in the camps according to plan, and who could be used for labor allocation.”

    A couple of minutes later, Pohl’s lawyer Seidl came back to the charts.

    [Dr.Seidl]: “We know today that in certain camps extermination measures against certain groups were introduced, and I am thinking especially of the extermination of the Jews. Were these groups of people represented in Dr. Lolling’s statistics, or did he confine himself to covering only those cases which, on the strength of reports from medical offices of the individual camps, came to his knowledge?”
    [Pohl]: “The figures about exterminations were not reported to the Inspectorate at all, and consequently Dr. Lolling could not evaluate them for his statistics.”166

    For the administration of the camps, information about the mass-killing of people who were not admitted to the camp, and who therefore did not make any claim on the resources of the SS, was irrelevant.

    In 1943, when the four crematoria came into operation in Birkenau,the name “Birkenau” occasionally surfaced in relation to the Holocaust, but no-one made a connection with Auschwitz.167 There remained a kind of interpretative “gap” between the few accounts of the camp at Auschwitz as a particularly violent concentration camp meant mainly for Polish resistors, Birkenau as a destination for Jews of unknown geographical location, the Holocaust in general, and the town of Auschwitz as a site of massive industrial activity,Martin Gilbert observed that in fact the industrial activity in the Auschwitz region, with its use of slave-labour, “proved one of the most effective means of hiding the main purpose of Birkenau.”168 A good example of this can be found in a report that reached the World Jewish Congress in the summer of 1942.

    We receive alarming reports from camps in Upper Silesia. A French deportee worker reports large concentrations of Frenchmen, English prisoners-of-war, ordinary convicts and Jews in labour camps. Large factories with accommodation for workers are being constructed directly above coal mines for the purpose of producing synthetic rubber. 36,600 men work on one building site; 24,000 on another one. Among them are several thousand Jewish deportees between the ages of 16 and 24 who are treated worst….The rate of mortality is so high that in some camps the Jewish personnel has been entirely replaced many times over. Non-Jewish workers are forbidden any contact with Jews.169

    In June 1944, when as the result of the escape of Rudi Vrba and Alfred Wetzlar finally the truth about the use of Birkenau as a site if systematic extermination became known, the Senior Representative of the Jewish Agency in Geneva, Richard Lichtheim, wrote in a letter to the Jewish Agency executive in Jerusalem that up to then he had always assumed that any reference to deportations of Jews to Auschwitz concerned the German purpose “to exploit more Jewish labour in the industrial centres of Upper Silesia.”170

    And of course it did not help that no maps showed the name “Birkenau.” Even in AustroHungarian times, when the town of Oswiecim was also known as Auschwitz, the village the Germans called Birkenau was identified on the official maps with its Polish name: “Brzezinka.” A final issue was that, during the war, Birkenau was officially incorporated in the German Reich. Those who knew about transports of Jews to extermination centers knew that these were located in Poland. The term “Poland” carried the assumption of “German-occupied Poland,” which was the Government General. The resulting confusion aided the Germans to maintain secrecy about Auschwitz as a place of mass extermination.

    And then there was the fact that the many atrocities the Germans enacted elsewhere also proved an effective screen. In April 1943, for example, a report was drafted on Auschwitz by a Pole who, on instructions of the Polish underground, had gone to the town of Oswiecim to find out what was going on in the camp. His findings were based on accounts of freed (gentile)prisoners. According to the report, Auschwitz had become a major extermination camp for Jews.

    1. Gas Chambers, the victims were undressed and put into those chambers where they suffocated.
    2. Electric Chambers, these chambers had metal walls, the victims were brought in and th6705 en high tension electric current was introduced.
    3. The so-called Hammerluft system. This is a hammer of air. Those were special chambers where the hammer fell from the ceiling and by means of a special installation victims found death under air pressure.
    4. Shootings. This was used as a collective form of punishment, in cases of lack of subordination, thus killing every tenth. 171

    Yet the report was never made public: added as an appendix to a long description of the Warsaw ghetto, it was overlooked when the whole text was dropped because, by the spring of 1943, the situation in Warsaw had changed so dramatically as the result of the uprising that the account in the report was considered obsolete.

    Finally there was the general problem to make information available. In March 1944, for example, the Polish Consul-General in Istanbul issued a cyclostyled report that claimed that between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1943 some 850,000 Jews had been gassed in Auschwitz. Published in a marginal format in a marginal location, it did not attract any attention outside the Polish refugee community in Turkey.172

    If the Germans aimed to keep killings in Birkenau secret, the Polish Labour Group in New York City and the American Office of War Information in Washington D.C. inadvertently aided them in their mission. In 1942, before the mass killings of Jews had started, the Polish underground had published a book on Auschwitz. Entitled Oboz Smierci (Camp of Death), it chronicled the first two years of the camp’s existence–the period in which it only fulfilled a marginal role in the Final Solution. Nevertheless, the account was grim enough and, smuggled out of Poland, the text was translated into English and published March 1944 by the Polish Labour Group in New York City as Oswiecim Camp of Death (Underground Report). The American publication was endorsed by Elmer Davis, the head of the Office of War Information. In a letter dated February 16, 1944 and printed opposite the title page, Davis wrote that he was glad to see the publication of the text.

    The record written in blood at Oswiecim and institutions like it in the Nazi dominated countries should be preserved to document the diabolical methods of Nazi suppression and warn the free men of the future against the tyranny which we allowed to rise and blight our time.173

    The opening lines were grim enough.

    Oswiecim concentration camp, Auschwitz in German, has for two years symbolized the sinister reality of Polish life under German occupation. The shadow of Oswiecim falls over the whole of Poland, for the most remote corners of the country have yielded their sons and daughters to its torture chambers.

    According to verified information up to July 1942, 125,000 persons passed through the camp, while, during all of the camp’s existence, barely 7,000 people have been released. This figure includes twelve persons who escaped or who were transferred to other camps. At that time 24,000 men and women remained alive. Consequently, 94,000 people have perished in Oswiecim.

    In addition to Oswiecim there are a series of other camps, organized somewhat later: Tremblinka, Belzec, and others in the past year in almost every administrative district. Life in any of these camps is an inferno equal to that of Oswiecim. However, in Oswiecim, the methods of cruelty have been lowered to their vilest depth, and applied in every form.174

    The text described how information over the camp had only leaked out slowly, and that the editors had checked every detail scrupulously. “Coloring and strong expressions have been eliminated to let the facts speak for themselves.”175 One area of specific interest was the account of gassings in the basement of Block 11, the penal barrack. Regularly, the report claimed, groups of prisoners disappeared into those cellars. Mostly these were sick inmates, but at times also included healthy Russian prisoners of war. After some time cries could be heard. “Then there is silence, an ominous silence that spreads around the double barrack. In the ensuing daylight, the silent barrack seems like a huge slab over an immense grave.” The report described how for three days nothing moved. Then, on the fourth night, carts came to collect naked bodies to bring them to the crematorium. When one of the carts overturned, one of the prisoners was able to observe in the moonlight that the dead had a strange, greenish pallor. “Years ago he had seen another like it, in an abandoned trench, with the same spectral appearance. It is the mark of poison gas.”

    No one emerges alive from the darkness of the underground cells to tell a word, and yet, in the first bit of dawn, the secret of 800 dead men filters through. A trip to Oswiecim, a flight of steps into the “underground,” and death by gas.176

    As we know today, the account was correct: Both Pery Broad and Rudolf Höss were to corroborate it.

    In early 1944 Oswiecim Camp of Death (Underground Report) was seen as an important account of German atrocities in Auschwitz. No one pointed out that, as an essentially two-year-old account, it did not bring up-to-date information. Easily interpreted as an account of the contemporary situation in Auschwitz, its publication effectively denied whatever rumours had been floating around about Auschwitz as a place where transports of Jews from all over Europe arrived to be gassed.

    In the middle of 1944 substantial information about the use of Auschwitz as a site of systematic genocide became available in the form of three reports. The first and most important account was written by two young Slovak Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzlar, who had been imprisoned for two years in Auschwitz before their successful escape on April 10, 1944. They returned to Slovakia in the hope to warn the Hungarian Jews, and there they were debriefed by the Jewish underground.177 A second statement, that corroborated the other, was added. It was older than the Vrba-Wetzlar Report, having been written by a the Polish gentile Jerzy Tabeau shortly after his escape from Auschwitz on 19 November 1943.178 In the version issued by the War Refugee Board, Tabeau is identified as “a non-Jewish Polish Major.”

    In June 1944 the Vrba-Wetzlar and the Tabeau reports reached Switzerland, and by the middle of the month various copies were circulating. On June 19, Richard Lichtheim, the senior Jewish Agency representative in Geneva, wrote to the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem that it had now become possible to ascertain “what has happened and where it has happened.” The systematic killing of Jews not only occured in the by then well-known camps like Treblinka, but also in “similar establishments situated near or in the labour camp of Birkenau in Upper Silesia.” Knowing well the confusion that existed as to the what and where of Birkenau, Lichtheim felt compelled to stress that “[t]here is a labour camp in Birkenau just as in many other places in Upper Silesia, and there are still many thousands of Jews working there and in neighbouring places (Jawischowiz etc.).” Yet the use of Birkenau as labour camp did not preclude an even more grim purpose:

    But apart from the labour-camps proper there is a forest of birch trees near Birkenau (Bezinky)where the first large-scale killings took place in a rather “primitive” manner, while later on they were carried out in the labour camp of B itself with all the scientific apparatus needed for this purpose, i.e. In specially constructed buildings with gas-chambers and crematoriums.179

    Lichtheim also explained that Birkenau was formally subordinated “to the camp of Auschwitz (Oswiecim)which is 4 km from Birkenau.” This camp, he observed, was generally known because of its violent regime as a “Death Camp.” Yet for all its horror it was now revealed to be a pale foreshadowing of Birkenau. The gentiles imprisoned in Auschwitz “have not been slaughtered wholesale on arrival like 90 per cent of the Jews arriving in Birkenau.”180

    The revelations about the purpose and function of Birkenau occurred at a time that the Germans were in the process of dispatching daily trains full of Hungarian Jews to that location. The Jewish Agency in Jerusalem was likely to do little, but the British Government in London perhaps more, and so Lichtheim contacted the British legation in Geneva with the request (if they would be willing)to cable a text Lichtheim had written to Foreign Office in London. The British diplomats agreed, and on June 27 the Lichtheim telegram was sent to London under signature of the British Minister in Berne. It began as follows:

    Received fresh reports from Hungary stating that nearly one half total of 800,000 Jews in Hungary have already been deported at a rate of 10,000 to 12,000 per diem. Most of these transports are sent to the death camp at Birkenau near Oswiecim in Upper Silesia where in the course of the last year over 1,500,000 Jews from all over Europe have been killed. We have detailed reports about the numbers and methods employed. The four crematoriums in Birkenau have a capacity for gassing and burning 60,000 per diem.181

    A week later the Foreign Office received an eight-page summary of the Vrba-Wetzlar report from the acting Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Ripka, who had obtained it from the Czechoslovak representative in Geneva.182

    By the time the facts about Auschwitz had reached London, it also had become known in Washington D.C. On June 24 Dr. Gerhart Riegner, who represented the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, had given the representative of the War Refuge Board in Berne, Roswell D. McClelland, a summary of the report, and that same day the latter had cabled the most important elements to Washington D.C.

    There is little doubt that many of these Hungarian Jews are being sent to the extermination camps of Auschwitz (Oswiecim)and Birke Nau (Rajska)in eastern Upper Silesia where according to recent reports, since early summer 1942 at least 1,500,000 Jews have been killed. There is evidence that already in January 1944 preparations were being made to receive and exterminate Hungarian Jews in these camps. Soon a detailed report on these camps will be cabled.183

    In fact, it was to take McClelland two weeks before he was able to telegraph an eight page summary to Washington on July 6, promising that “when mailing facilities permit, microfilm copies of the two reports ‘in extenso’ will be sent.”184 The time-lag can be explained as McClelland desired to obtain certainty about the reliability of the report. A member of the Bratislava Papal Nunciature, who had personally interviewed Vrba and Wetzlar, told McClelland that their story had been thoroughly convincing, and also explained that they had been closely cross-examined by senior members of the Bratislava Jewish community. The latter had taken care that the material finally incorporated into the report included only that about which there was no uncertainty or equivocation.185

    Having received the assurances he had sought, the American diplomat decided to put his career on the line, and he cabled a summary of the report to Washington D.C. It described the location, the huge size and the atrocious living conditions of Auschwitz, identified as camp “A,” and Birkenau, identified as camp “B.” After a short account of various medical experiments, and methods of executions through shooting or phenol injections, the summary addressed the core issue: the role of Auschwitz in the Holocaust.

    Jews who were brought to A toward end of 1941 were for most part Polish political prisoners and killed by various methods as such. Not until spring of 1942 were transports of Jews en masse sent to B (constructed principally for them) to be exterminated on purely racial grounds.186

    The telegram mentioned that, up to the escape of the authors of the report, a total of 145,500 people had been admitted to the camp and registered as inmates. Most deportees were, however, not admitted.

    As first large transports of Jews began to arrive in spring of 1942 process was to admit about 10% of more ablebodied men and 5% of women into B. This selection was made by Gestapo political commission at unloading of trains. Balance including elderly people, women with small children, those ill or otherwise unsuited for work and abandoned children were taken directly to Birkenwald in trucks and gassed.187

    The summary mentioned that, initially, the bodies of the murdered people were buried. In the fall of 1942 the Germans had abandoned this practice, and turned to open-air incineration on pyres.

    At the end of February 1943 four newly constructed crematoria and gassing units were put into operation in B two larger and two smaller the larger type consisted of vast central hall flanked on one side by furnace room and on other by long narrow gas chamber. About 2000 persons at once were crowded into central hall which was camouflaged to resemble a bathing establishment made to undress given a piece of soap and towel and then herded down a short stairway into ad [j]oining lower gas chamber this is hermetically closed and SS men wearing gasmasks mount to rood and shake down into room from three openings in ceiling a powdered cyanide preparation labelled cyklon manufactured in Hamburg. Within a few minutes everyone in gas chamber is dead, latter is aired and Sonderkommando proceeds with gruesome work of transporting bodies on small flat cars running along track passing under central hall to furnace room here there are nine ovens each with four openings with high smokestack rising in middle each opening can incinerate three normal bodies within one-half hours. Daily capacity of larger crematoria is 2000 of two smaller about 1000 each, total of all four units is some 6000 daily.188

    After providing details of various transports that had been subjected to selection and extermination, the telegram concluded with a frightful statistic.

    Authors set number of Jews gassed and burned in B between April 1942 and April 1944 at from 1.5 to 1.75 million about half of them Poles the others (in thousands followed by country of origin) 150 France, 100 Holland, 60 Germany, 50 Lithuania, 50 Belgium, 50 Yugoslavia, Italy and Norway, together 30, Slovakia, 30; Bohemia, Moravia and Austria together 300 from various camps for foreign Jews in Poland.189

    By the time McClelland’s summary arrived in Washington D.C., The New York Times had already run three stories on Auschwitz. The first, published on June 20, was only 22 lines long. Entitled “Czechs Report Massacre,” it reported the death of 7,000 Czech Jews. “The report said that the victims were dragged to gas chambers in the notorious German concentration camps at Birkenau and Oswiecim.”190 Two weeks later the coverage had increased four-fold in an article entitled “Inquiry Confirms Nazi Death Camps,” subtitled “1,715,000 Jews Said to Have Been Put to Death by the Germans Up to April 15.” The author, the The New York Times correspondent in Geneva Daniel Brigham, still hedged his language, but three days later, in an even longer article entitled “Two Death Camps Places of Horror” he had lost all doubt: the report had received “incontrovertible confirmation of the facts.”191

    By the middle of July 1944 many had become convinced that the Germans were engaged in the systematic annihilation of Jews in extermination camps, and that Birkenau was one of the most important of these. But few people could really imagine what such places were like. The world of the camps remained intangible. This changed on July 23, 1944. Five days earlier the Soviet army had broken through German lines at Kowel, and on July 23 the Eight Guards Army took the town of Lublin. In Lublin’s suburb of Maidanek, General Chuikov’s soldiers found a large concentration camp, which the Germans had largely evacuated in the preceding months, but which for unknown reasons they had failed to destroy. The crematorium and various of the gas chambers were captured largely intact.192 For the first time it became possible to fully imagine what the word “Birkenau” meant. On August 29 the Soviet Embassy in Washington published the first instalment of a long, two-piece article by Konstantin Simonov entitled “Lublin Annihilation Camp.” The article began with a statement that was to be repeated almost literally by dozens of journalists as they reported, in the nine months that followed, of the things they witnessed in the German concentration camps upon their liberation: “What I am now about to relate is too enormous and too gruesome to be fully conceived.” Simonov admitted that it would take a painstaking inquiry to establish all the facts about the camp. Yet, having seen the place, and talked to around 100 witnesses, he could not wait. “[A] man who has seen what I have cannot hold his peace and cannot wait to speak.”193

    But we open a door and find ourselves in another disinfecting chamber which is built on an entirely different principle. It is a square room, a little over two meters high and roughly six meters long and as many wide. The walls, ceiling and floor are all built of solid gray concrete. There are no shelves for clothes here such as we saw in the other chamber. The room is absolutely bare. A single steel door hermetically closes the entrance to the chamber. It can be fastened from the outside by an impressive steel bar. In the walls of this concrete vault are three apertures. In two of them pipes are fitted which lead out into the open. The third aperture is a little spy hole, a small square window barred on the inside by a stout steel grid fitted into the concrete. A thick panel of glass covers the outer side of the aperture so that it cannot be reached through the grid.

    What is on the other side of this spy hole? To answer this question we leave the chamber and find that next to it is another and smaller room, also built of concrete. It is into this room that the spy hole leads. Here there is an electric switch. And here too, on the floor, stand several hermetically sealed cylindrical tins on which is inscribed the word “cyclone ” and in smaller letters “for special use in Eastern regions.” It was the contents of these tins which was poured through the pipes into the chamber next door after it had been filled with people.

    The people were stripped naked before they were pushed into the room and they were packed so tight they occupied little space. In these 40 square meters or so 250 persons were jammed at one time. The steel door was closed upon them and its edges sealed with clay. Then specially trained operators wearing gas masks poured the “cyclone” out of the cylindrical tins into the chamber. The small bluish innocent-looking crystals, on contact with the oxygen of the air, immediately began to generate poisonous gases which simultaneously affect all centers of the human organism.

    An SS man of the commanding squad turned on a switch in the next room illuminating the poison chamber and through the spy hole watched all stages of the asphyxiation, which according to various witnesses lasted from two to 10 minutes. He could safely watch the action of the gases and the faces of the dying. The spy hole was set into the wall at roughly the height of a human face. He had no need to look down, for the people were packed so close they did not fall as they died, but continued in an upright position.

    Incidentally, “cyclone” really is a disinfecting substance. It was actually used for the disinfection of clothes in neighbouring sheds. Everything seemed fair and aboveboard. It all depended on the dose which was poured into the chambers.194

    In a second part of his report, published a few days later, Simonov reported on the crematoria.

    It is a large rectangular building, built of highly resistant firebrick. It contains five brick furnaces arranged one alongside the other, with round, hermetically-closing iron doors which now stand open. The deep furnaces are half-filled with incinerated vertebrae and ashes. In a space in front of each furnace lie skeletons which were made ready by the Germans for cremation. Those in front of three of the furnaces are skeletons of men and women; those in front of the other two are the skeletons of children of 10 and 12, to judge by their size. There are five or six skeletons in front of each furnace. This indicates their capacity. Each furnace was built to accommodate six bodies. If the six bodies would not fit into the crematorium the operators hacked off the protruding parts of the body, an arm, a leg or a head, and then hermetically closed the door.

    There are five furnaces in all. They could handle a large number of bodies daily. Originally they incinerated a corpse in 45 minutes, but gradually by raising the temperatures in the furnaces the Germans doubled the handling capacity of the crematorium and incinerating process; instead of 45 minutes they took 25 and even less. Experts have already determined the fireproof brick from which the furnaces are built and conclude from the deformations and changes to which it has been subjected that the temperature in the furnaces exceeded 1,500 degrees Centigrade. Additional evidence is furnished by the cast-iron dampers, which have also been deformed and have slightly melted.

    If we reckon on an average that each batch of bodies took half an hour to cremate, and if we bear in mind, as is generally testified, that since the autumns of 1943 smoke poured from the crematorium chimney-stack incessantly, day and night, we may conclude that the total capacity of the crematorium was 1,400 bodies per day.195

    The sight that shocked Simonov most was a large shed filled with shoes.

    There may be a million, there may be more. They spill over out of the hut through the windows and the doors. In one spot the weight of them pushed out part of the wall, which fell outwards together with piles of shoes.

    Every kind of footwear can be found here: torn Russian military top-boots, boots of Polish soldiers, men’s shoes, women’s slippers, rubber overshoes, and what is the grimmest of all, thousands upon thousands of pairs of children’s footwear–boots, shoes and sandals of children ten years old, eight years old and even of babies. It is hard to imagine anything more gruesome than this sight, a silent witness of the destruction of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children….Like everything else in the death camp, this storehouse was built for utilitarian purposes; nothing belonging to the slaughtered victims was to be wasted, neither clothes, shoes, bones nor ashes.196

    One day after the Soviet Embassy in Washington published the first instalment of Simonov’s account of Maidanek, the American public found confirmation in The New York Times. On August 30 it carried on the front page an article entitled “Nazi Mass Killing Laid Bare in Camp,” written by the same Bill Lawrence who, nine months earlier, had shown such scepticism about the alleged mass killing of Jews in Babi Yar. This time Lawrence did not hedge his statements anymore.

    I have just seen the most terrible place on the face of the earth–the German concentration camp at Maidanek, which was a veritable River Rouge 197 for the production of death, in which it is estimated by Soviet and Polish authorities that as many as 1,500,000 persons from nearly every country in Europe were killed in the last three years.

    I have been all-through the camp inspecting its hermetically sealed gas chambers, in which victims were asphyxiated, and five furnaces in which the bodies were cremated, and I have talked with German officers attached to the camp, who admitted quite frankly that it was a highly systemized place for annihilation, although they, of course, denied any personal participation in the murders….

    This is a place that must be seen to be believed. I have been present at numerous atrocity investigations in the Soviet Union, but never have I been confronted with such complete evidence, clearly establishing every allegation made by those investigating German crimes.

    After inspection of Maidanek, I am now prepared to believe any story of German atrocities, no matter how savage, cruel and depraved.198

    While seeing Maidanek may have convinced Lawrence that his earlier scepticism had been inappropriate, the editors of The Christian Century felt no need to let go of the scepticism they had shown all along about the atrocity stories coming from Europe. On September 13, 1944 they provided under the heading “Biggest Atrocity Story Breaks in Poland” a short summary of Lawrence’s account, and noted that “chief evidence for the charge that 1,500,000 persons had been killed in this manner was a warehouse ‘about 150 feet long’ containing clothing of people of all ages who were said to have been done to death in the camp.” It did not convince the editors back home in America.

    Many newspapers gave the Lublin charges the big headline of the day, but the parallel between this story and the “corpse factory ” atrocity tale of the First World War is too striking to be overlooked. That story started in 1917 and was not finally discredited until 1925. There may or may not be a relation between the fact that the Lublin account came out immediately after it was charged by London Poles that the Russians had stopped their advance within artillery range of Warsaw and waited until the Germans had killed 250,000 Poles within the city who had risen to fight for their freedom in response to the call of the Polish government-in-exile.199

    And thus the editors of one of the leading Christian magazines in the United States concluded their coverage of the discovery of Maidanek.

    The editors of Time showed less hesitance to accept facts for what they were. On August 21 they had provided a first account of the “gigantic murder plant,” largely taken from notes by the Russian war correspondent Roman Karmen.200 Three weeks later they printed an almost full-page article entitled “Murder, Inc.” written by their Moscow correspondent Richard Lauterbach, who had visited the camp sometime earlier. He was puzzled by the banality of the camp. “I took notes calmly, feeling little emotion. It was all so cold and bare.” After having inspected the gas chambers, his guide, the secretary of the Soviet Atrocities Commission Dmitri Kudriavtsev, showed him some cabbage patches.

    The big, leafy cabbages were covered with a sooty, grey dust and next to them were high mounds of grey brown stuff. “This,” said Kudriavtsev, “is fertilizer. A layer of human bones, a layer of human ashes, a layer of manure. This is German food production. Kill people; fertilize cabbages.”201

    Lauterbach noted the Soviet expert’s explanation of the ultimate result of capitalist logic without comment. And neither did he dispute the expert’s interpretation of German efficiency.

    The crematorium might have been a big bakeshop or a very small blast furnace. Here the Nazis carted the bodies, straight from the gas chambers. They cut them up scientifically. They put the chunks on iron stretchers, slid them on rollers into the five greedy mouths of the coke-fed ovens. They could disintegrate 1,900 people a day. “There was great economy,” said Kudriavtsev. “These furnaces also heated the water for the camp.”202

    Lauterbach ended with an extensive description of the warehouses with shoes.

    A week later Life ran another of Lauterbach’s articles on Maidanek. It was entitled “Sunday in Poland.”

    It was not the gas chambers where victims were snuffed out standing up, or the crematorium where they were chopped up and then burned in construction ovens. This part of the “death factory” didn’t get to me somehow. Too machine-like. It wasn’t even the open graves with skeletons or skulls or stacks of fertilizer made from human bodies and manure. The full emotional shock came at a giant warehouse chock-full of people’s shoes, more than 800,000 of all sizes, shapes, colors, and styles.

    In some places the shoes had burst out of the building like corn from a crib. It was monstrous. There is something about an old shoe as personal as a snapshot or a letter. I looked at them and saw their owners: skinny kids in soft, white, worn slippers; thin ladies in black highlaced shoes; sturdy soldiers in brown military shoes.203

    By this time a joint Soviet-Polish commission, that comprised of three Russian and eight Polish members (amongst whom a priest, the President of the Lublin Red Cross, two academics and two lawyers), and which was assisted by a six-member Board of Medico-Legal Experts and a four-member board of Technico-Legal and Chemical Experts, had begun a systematic forensic investigation, following procedures that had been well established in nineteen earlier enquiries into German atrocities.204 They were lucky in that they had been able to obtain not only testimonies from former inmates, but also from a number of SS men who had not been able to escape in time. Furthermore some parts of the camp administration had been captured and, as we have seen, the gas chambers and crematoria had remained intact and were available for forensic investigation. In October the commission issued its report, the English-language version of which was made available by the Soviet embassy in Washington D.C. on October 17.205

    After a short introduction, the report came immediately to the point.

    The Hitlerite hangmen set up a huge death factory at Maidanek in Lublin. They named it “Vernichtungslager” ((Extermination Camp). Germans who had served in this camp and were taken prisoner testified before the Commission. SS Rottenfuehrer Theodor Scholen stated: “This camp was called the ‘Extermination Camp’–‘Vernichtungslager’–just because a tremendous number of people were exterminated there.”

    Heinz Stalbe, a member of the Kampfpolizei, stated: “The main purpose of this camp was to exterminate the greatest number of people, and for this reason it was named the ‘Vernichtungslager,’ i.e.’Extermination Camp.'”206

    Of course, the designation “Vernichtungslager” was only an informal one used by the SS guards in their conversations with the Soviets, and perhaps amongst themselves. The official designation of Maidanek was, like that of Birkenau, as a “Prisoner-of-War Camp of the Waffen SS Lublin” (Kriegsgefangenenlagers der Waffen SS Lublin)–a designation that preserved Himmler’s original but quickly thwarted intention to use the camp as a forced labour pool of Soviet prisoners of war.

    The bulk of the report was devoted to an extensive description of life in the camp, the constant starvation and exhaustion, the diseases, the humiliations, beatings, tortures, and hangings. One chapter chronicled the mass shootings, which had culminated on November 3, 1943 in the execution of 18,400 people on one day. Another chapter described extermination by gas.

    One of the methods most widely used for the mass extermination of people in Maidanek Camp was asphyxiation with gas. A board of technico-legal and chemical experts–presided over by the architect engineer of the town of Lublin, KELLES-KRAUSE, and consisting of Major Engineer, Assistant Professor TELANER, Master of Technical Science GRIGORYEV, and Master of Technical Science PELKIS, established that cells built on the territory of the camp had been used chiefly for the mass extermination of human beings.

    There were six such cells. Some had been used for killing people with “S.O.” gas, others for killing with the poisonous chemical substance called “cyclone.” On the camp territory there were discovered 535 drums of “Cyclone-B2″ preparation and several steel cylinders containing carbon monoxide….

    On the basis of precise calculation used in the technical examination of the gas cells, chemical analysis of the carbon monoxide and “cyclone,” the experts have ascertained: “Technical and sanitary-chemical analysis of the gas cells in Maidanek Concentration Camp fully confirms that all these cells, especially cells Nos. 1,2,3 and 4, were destined and used for the large-scale extermination of people by poison gasses such as hydrocyanic acid (the ‘cyclone’ preparation) and carbon monoxide.”207

    The conclusions by the technical experts were corroborated by eye-witness testimony of the captured SS men.

    At a session of the Commission German SS men who had served in the camp related the following about the large-scale gassings of people: SS Rottenfuehrer Haensche stated that on September 15, 1942, 350 people, including women and children, were killed in a gas cell. SS Oberscharfuehrer Ternes told the Commi

    The selection of people for asphyxiation was done systematically by the German camp doctors Blanke and Rindfleisch. The same Ternes stated: “On the evening of October 21, 1943, Camp Doctor SS Untersturmfuehrer Rindfleisch told me that on that very day 300 children of three to 10 years of age had been asphyxiated with the “cyclone” preparation in a gas cell.”

    Bodies were regularly removed from the gas cells to be burned in the crematorium or on bonfires. The bodies were transported on trucks or on special platforms hauled by tractors. Many eyewitnesses gave evidence on this point. The German prisoner of war SS Rottenfuehrer Theodor Scholen, who had worked in the camp, stated: “I often saw the truck, with a trailer attached, running from the gas cell to the crematorium and back. It took dead bodies from the gas cell, and then returned empty.”208

    The next chapter dealt with the technology of incineration. The crematorium had been completed in 1943 and counted five furnaces designed to burn continuously.

    The technical experts who thoroughly examined the structure of the furnaces came to the following conclusion: “The furnaces were intended for burning bodies and designed to function uninterruptedly. Four bodies with hacked off extremities could be placed in one furnace at a time. It took 15 minutes to burn four bodies, and so with all furnaces working round the clock it was possible to burn 1,920 bodies in 24 hours. Taking into account the great quantity of bones discovered all over the camp (in pits, in vegetable gardens and manure heaps), the Committee of experts believes that bones were taken out of the furnaces before they could be completely consumed, and that therefore, in fact, many more than 1,920 bodies were burned in 24 hours.”209

    There was also ample evidence that the Germans had incinerated corpses on large pyres, and the commission had found at least 18 large mass graves within the camp area, and 1,350 cubic meters of compost that consisted, among other things, of human ashes and small human bones. On the basis of the capacity of the old incinerators and the new crematorium, the assumed capacity of the pyres both inside and outside the camp, the commission estimated that some 1.5 million people had been killed in the camp. This latter figure was found suspect from the beginning, and led in 1948 to a new, official estimate of 360,000 victims based on analysis of transports, lists of the dead, and the occupancy of the barracks.210

    By the time the report appeared, the shock of the initial discovery had passed. The forensic investigation had confirmed the initial accounts, and so it was not really news. Few newspapers paid attention. Yet the work of the commission made an impact on the German leadership. Maidanek was “a public relations” disaster. David Irving tells in his Hitler’s War that at a war conference of October 27 Press Chef Otto Dietrich handed Hitler an English newspaper that carried a summary of the Soviet report.

    A hush fell on the war conference. Hitler angrily laid the newspaper aside: “That’s that ‘hacked-off hands again–pure enemy propaganda!” …. But the consternation among his circle persisted. A perplexed Ribbentrop showed the newspaper to his son Rudolf, visiting him on injury leave from his Waffen SS unit. Rudolf too exclaimed, “Father, can’t you recognize atrocity-propaganda when you see it–it’s the ‘hacked-off hands’ again!!” Ribbentrop uneasily pressed Hitler in private. “It’s Himmler’s affair,” replied the Führer dismissively, “and his alone.”211

    Indeed: Himmler became determined that it would not happen again. Within days after the incident in the Führer headquarters, he decided that, for all practical purposes, the Jewish Question had been solved as much as it was in his power to do, and he ordered the cessation of gassing in Auschwitz, and the dismantling of the extermination installations in the crematoria.212

    Just at the time that crews of prisoners completed the demolition of the gas chambers in Auschwitz the War Refugee Board published the Vrba-Wetzlar and Tabeau reports, which had been made available in summary in early July, and a third text drafted by Arnost Rosin and Czeslaw Mordowicz, who had escaped Auschwitz in late May, and who provided important information about the early phase of the Hungarian Action. The collated text was entitled German Extermination Camps–Auschwitz and Birkenau. In its press release, the Board stated that, with exceptions for the figures concerning the number of people admitted to the camps–“declared by the authors to be no more than reliable approximations”–it accepted the accounts as providing “a true picture of the frightful happenings in these camps.”213

    The first time gassing is mentioned concerns the killing of prisoners in the summer of 1942. At this time Vrba had been the administrator of the sick barrack, and hence knew of the selections.

    At the same time the so-called “selections” were introduced. Twice weekly, Mondays and Thursdays, the camp doctor indicated the number of prisoners who were to be gassed and then burned. These “selectees” were loaded into trucks and brought to the Birch Forest. Those still alive upon arrival were gassed in a big barrack erected near a trench used for burning the bodies.214

    In the report Vrba and Wetzlar also correctly identify the completion of Crematorium 2.

    At the end of February, 1943 a new crematorium and gassing plant was inaugurated at BIRKENAU. The gassing and burning of the bodies in the Birch Forest was discontinued, the whole job being taken over by the four specially built crematoria. The large ditch was filled in, the ground levelled, and the ashes used as before for fertilizer at the farm labour camp of HERMENSE, so that today it is almost impossible to find traces of the dreadful mass murder which took place there.

    At present there are four crematoria in operation at BIRKENAU, two large ones, I and II, and two smaller ones, III and IV.215

    There followed a long description of crematoria 2 and 3 (in their numbering I and II 216) accompanied by a sketch. It is clear that the account of the lay-out of the interior is based on second-hand information, probably derived from members of the Sonderkommando. Indeed: in sworn deposition Vrba made in 1961, and in his later book I Cannot Forgive (1963), Vrba stated that he received all the specific information on the crematoria from Sonderkommando Philip Müller and his colleagues.217

    On the basis of direct observation, people who had been on transports, the people who handled the property of the deportees, the reports of the registry office of the Quarantine Camp in Auschwitz, and the information provided by those who worked the crematoria, Vrba and Wetzlar estimated that about 1,765,000 Jews had died in Auschwitz up to April 1944.

    Jerzy Tabeau’s report, which had a independent origin, provided much detailed information on life in the camp. More importantly, it corroborated the Vrba-Wetzlar account of the use of Birkenau as a site of mass extermination. Tabeau mentions that the first large transports of Jews began to arrive in the spring of 1942. “Certain large scale preparations had to be made to receive these mass transports and a special concentration camp was opened at BIRKENAU (The Polish name of the village is RAJSKO).”218 It describes the selections in detail, and the killing in the summer and fall of 1942 of the Jews in the gas chamber in the birch forest. Tabeau mentions the problems with getting rid of the corpses.

    The crematoria had not yet been constructed, although there was a small one at AUSCHWITZ which, however, was not employed for burning these bodies. Mass graves were dug at that time into which the corpses were simply thrown. This continued into the autumn of 1942.By this time extermination by gas was being intensified and there was no more time as such for summary burial. Row upon row of bodies of murdered Jews, covered only by a thin layer of earth, were widely dispersed in the surrounding fields, causing the soil to become almost marshy through the putrefaction of the bodies. The smell emanating from these fields became intolerable. In the autumn of 1942 all that remained of the bodies had to be exhumed and the bones collected and burned in the crematoria (by that time four had been completed). An alternative was to gather the remains of the unfortunate victims into heaps, pour gasoline over them, and leave it to the flames to finish the tragedy.219

    With exception of the clause “and the bones collected and burned in the crematoria (by that time four had been completed)” all that Tabeau mentioned was corroborated after the war.

    As a result, much was known about Auschwitz by the end of 1944.The report of the War Refugee Board provided the structure, and the knowledge of Maidanek the texture of that knowledge.

    IV Attestations, 1945 – 46

    But it is time I should conclude this head, under which I have touched some of the reasons that show the folly of endeavouring to establish universal Pyrrhonism in matters of history, because there are few histories without some lies, and none without some mistakes; and that prove the body of history which we possess, since ancient memorials have been so critically examined, and modern memorials have been so multiplied, to contain in it such a probable series of events, easily distinguishable from the improbable, as force the assent of every man who is in his senses, and are, therefore, sufficient to answer all the purposes of the study of history.

    Lord Bolingbroke, Lessons on the Study and Use of History220

    On January 27,1945 units of the 28th and 106th Corps of the First Ukrainian Front liberated the Auschwitz camps. They found in Auschwitz-Monowitz, the slave labour camp attached to the IG Farben Buna works,600 sick inmates. The Italian Primo Levi was one of them.

    They were four young soldiers on horseback, who advanced along the road that marked the limits of the camp, cautiously holding their sten-guns. When they reached the barbed wire, they stopped to look, exchanging a few timid words, and throwing strangely embarrassed glances at the sprawling bodies, at the battered huts and at us few still alive.

    To us they seemed wonderfully concrete and real, perched on their enormous horses, between the grey of the snow and the grey of the sky, immobile beneath the gusts of damp wind that threatened a thaw.

    It seemed to us, and so it was, that the nothing full of death in which we had wandered like spent stars for ten days had found its own solid centre, a nucleus of condensation; four men, armed, but not against us: four messengers of peace, with rough and boyish faces beneath their heavy fur hats.

    They did not greet us, nor did they smile; they seemed oppressed not only by compassion but by a confused restraint, which sealed their lips and bound their eyes to the funereal scene. It was that shame we knew so well, the shame that drowned us after the selections, and every time we had to watch, or submit to, some outrage: the shame the Germans did not know, that the just man experiences at the other’s crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably in the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have availed in defence. 221

    The Red Army liberated 1,200 sick prisoners in the Auschwitz Stammlager and 5,800 inmates in Birkenau. The rest, some 60,000 inmates, had been forced a week earlier in a death march to the west. In Birkenau the Soviets also found the blown-up remains of four crematoria–the SS had learnt from Maidanek–and a large compound with 32 burned storage houses. Again, the SS had tried to avoid the embarrassment caused by the 820,000 shoes in Maidanek. And they largely succeeded this time: all that was left in the four storage barracks that were not completely destroyed at Birkenau were a mere 5,525 pairs of women’s shoes and 38,000 pairs of men’s shoes–and 348,820 men’s suits, 836,255 women’s garments, 13,964 carpets, 69,848 dishes, huge quantities of toothbrushes, shaving brushes, glasses, crutches, false teeth, and seven tons of hair.

    Immediately after the liberation the well-known Russian writer and Pravada correspondent Boris Polevoi wrote a first impression of the camp entitled “The Factory of Death at Auschwitz.” Wired from Auschwitz, it appeared in Pravda on February 2. “It will take weeks of long and careful investigations by special commissions before a full picture of the truly unparalleled German outrages at Auschwitz is established,” the article began. “What is noted here are only the outlines coming from a first glance acquaintanceship with the site of the monstrous outrages of the Hitlerite hangmen.” And this was indeed what the article provided, “a first glance acquaintenship.” Today, more than fifty years later, in an epoch that expects descriptions of the camps to evoke the stark and terrible gentleness of Jean Cayrol’s script for Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog, or the naturalism of Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man?, or the restrained agony of Elie Wiesel’s Night, the histrionic language of the Pravda piece seems in bad taste. But it must be remembered that Cayrol wrote his lines ten years after the event, when the landscape of Auschwitz had become peaceful, while Polevoi wrote amidst the atrocity itself.

    If Simonov’s report on Maidanek had been characterized by utter surprise and shock, Polevoi admitted that he had been prepared for what was to be revealed.

    The name of the town “Auschwitz” has long been a synonym for bloody German atrocities in the lexicon of the peoples of the world. Few of its prisoners escaped the fires of its notorious “ovens.” From behind the wire of its numerous camps only a phantom echo had filtered of the wails from the lips of its thousands of prisoners. Only now, when the troops of the First Ukrainian Front had liberated Auschwitz, was it possible to see with one’s own eyes the entirety of this terrible camp, in which many of its tens of square kilometers of fields were soaked in human blood, and literally fertilized with human ash.222

    To the Soviet journalist there was no doubt: Auschwitz was the direct result of Monopoly-Capitalism–a Leitmotif that had been well established almost half a year earlier at the occasion of the liberation of Maidanek, and that went straight back to Karl Marx’s analysis of the reduction of human labour into a commodity. But, as Polevoi observed, Auschwitz was in class of its own.

    The first thing that strikes one about Auschwitz, and which distinguishes it from other known camps, is its enormous expanse. The territory of the camp occupied tens of square kilometers and in recent years had grown to absorb the towns of Makowice, Babice, and others. It was an enormous industrial plant, having its own branch facilities, each of which received its own special charge. In one, the processing of the arrivals took place: prisoners were made of those who, before death, could be put to work, while the elderly, the children, and the infirm were sentenced to immediate extermination. In another, a division for those who were so exhausted and worn out as to be barely fit for physical labour, they were assigned the task of sorting the clothes of the exterminated, and of sorting their shoes, taking apart uppers, soles, linings. It is fair to say that all prisoners entering the branches of the industrial plant were to be killed and burned, either by being killed outright or through the many ordeals of confinement.223

    Auschwitz, in other words, was a vast corporate enterprise which was unique in so far that it considered its workers to be totally expendable, and that once the labour had ceased to be a commodity, the body became one.” Around this industrial plant enormous fields and enclosures were established in the Sola and Vistula river valleys. The remains of the prisoners, burned in the “ovens”, had their ash and bones crushed in rolling mills and converted to meal, and this meal went to the fields and enclosures.”

    Auschwitz! Impartial commissions will establish the precise number of the people killed or tortured to death here. But already we can assert, based on discussions with Poles, that in 1941-1942 and at the beginning of 1943 five to eight trains of people arrived every day, indeed on some days so many came that the station could not handle them.

    The people came from the surrounding territories occupied by the Germans, from the USSR, from Poland, from France, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The wagons were tightly packed with people and were always locked. At the station, the Polish railway workers were replaced by a crew from the camp, which included several special railway detachments. The wagons would disappear behind the gates and return empty. In the first four years of the camp’s existence the railway workers did not see a single wagon coming back from the camp carrying people.224

    While the information of the Polish railway workers on the number of trains in the early years seem exaggerated–an item of misinformation that can be explained as the result of the fact that Auschwitz was a railway center of more than regional importance–their information about the fact that in the first four years the trains that left Auschwitz were empty seems correct if only because of its implication that in the last year trains left the camp with prisoners. As we know, in the last year of its existence a large number of prisoners who had survived selection left Auschwitz after some days on transports to other camps.225

    Then the article turned to the machinery of death.

    Last year, when the Red Army revealed to the world the terrible and abominable secrets of Majdanek, the Germans in Auschwitz began to wipe out the traces of their crimes. They levelled the mounds of the so-called “old” graves in the Eastern part of the camp, tore up and destroyed the traces of the electric conveyor belt, on which hundreds of people were simultaneously electrocuted, their bodies falling onto the slow moving conveyor belt which carried them to the top of the blast furnace where they fell in, were completely burned, their bones converted to meal in the rolling mills, and then sent to the surrounding fields. In retreat were taken the special transportable apparatuses for killing children. The stationary gas chambers in the eastern part of the camp were restructured, even little turrets and other architectural embellishments were added so that they would look like innocent garages.

    But even so one can see the traces of the murder of millions of people! From the stories of prisoners, liberated by the Red Army, it is not difficult to make out all that the Germans tried so carefully to conceal. This gigantic industrial plant of death was equipped with the last word in fascist technology and was furnished with all of the instruments of torture which the German monsters could devise.

    In the first years of the camp, the Germans maintained only a cottage industry of death: they simply led prisoners to a large open pit, forced them to lie down and shot them in the back of the head. When one layer was full, the next would be forced to lie down head-to-foot on the layer below. And so was filled the second layer, and the third, and the fourth… When the grave was full, to make sure that all of the people were dead, it was raked with submachine gun fire several times, while those for whom there was no room in the grave covered it up. Thus were filled hundreds of enormous pits in the eastern part of the camp, which bore the name of the “old” graves.

    The German hangmen, noting the primitiveness of this method of killing, decided to increase the productivity of the industrial plant of death by mechanizing it, leading to the gas chambers, the electric conveyor belt, the construction of the blast furnace for burning bodies and the so-called “ovens.”226

    In the weeks that followed, forensic investigation was to confirm the existence and use of the gas chambers and the ovens, and relegate the electric conveyer belt and the blast furnace to the realm of myth.227

    The article followed with a catalogue of the “ordinary” instruments of torture, and in one line described the condition of the surviving inmates–“people, so worn out that they swayed like shadows in the wind, people, whose age it was impossible to determine.” And it concluded: “The Red Army saved them, and pulled them from hell. They honor the Red Army as the avengers for Auschwitz or Majdanek, and for all the pain and suffering which the fascist hangmen have brought to the people of Europe.”228

    The same day that Polevoi’s article appeared in Pravda, the British weekly The Jewish Chronicle devoted one sentence to the event. “The Red Army has captured Auschwitz(Oswiecim), one of the most notorious of all death camps.”229 A week later the same magazine carried a front-page article entitled “Oswiecim Revelations: Worst Death Camp Captured.” The article provided a summary of Polevoi’s account, and ended with the grim statistic that “it is estimated that over 1,500,000 victims were done to death in Oswiecim, and hundreds of thousands of them were Jews.”230

    It was from the outset clear that Auschwitz had been the site of a tremendous crime, and that the best way to use it as an indictment of National Socialism was to follow the example taken in Maidanek and establish the truth according to commonly accepted historical and judicial criteria of evidence. Therefore the Prosecutor’s Office of the First Ukrainian Front immediately began a preliminary investigation. Like the investigation of Maidanek, it operated under the aegis of the Soviet State Extraordinary Commission for the Investigation of Fascist and Nazi Crimes. The investigators inspected the grounds of the camp, the pits containing human remains, and the ruins of the crematoria. They were assisted in the examination of the latter structures by Professor Roman Dawidowski, a specialist in heating and combustion technology from Cracow. Furthermore they studied the extermination process, and the remaining loot. Physicians medically examined 2,819 former inmates, and conducted autopsies on the corpses of 536 prisoners, and members of the Prosecutor’s Office interviewed 200 of the remaining prisoners. They were fortunate in that they were able to interview three surviving members of the Sonderkommando. Until the end the Germans had kept some 100 Sonderkommando around: 30 to run Crematorium V, and 70 to clean out the incineration pits used in the summer of 1944. These 100 Sonderkommando were marched out of the camp on January 18, but Alain Feinsilber (alias Stanislaw Jankowski), Szlama Dragon and Henryk Tauber were able to escape, and the last two returned in time to Oswiecim to give evidence to the Soviets. Dragon also remembered the location where his fellow Sonderkommando Salmen Gradowski had buried a journal, written in Yiddish,in an aluminium canteen.231 The canteen was dug up in the presence of the members of the Prosecutors office. It contained a 81-leave notebook and a letter, dated September 6,1944. Significant parts of the journal, which he had begun before his transport to Auschwitz, had become unintelligible. However the letter was preserved perfectly. For the record, here it is quoted in full.

    I was writing this at the time when I was in the “Sonderkommando.” I had been brought from the camp at Kielbasin near Grodno. I wanted to leave this as also other numerous notes as memento for the future world of peace, so that it may learn what had happened here. I have buried this under the ashes deeming it the safest place, where people will certainly dig to find the traces of millions of men who were exterminated.

    But lately they have begun obliterating the traces and everywhere, where there was much ash, they ordered to have it ground fine and to cart it away to the Vistula and to let it flow with the current. We have dug up many graves and now two such open graves are in the terrain of the second and third crematorium. Several graves are still full of ashes. Perhaps they had forgotten about them or they themselves had maybe concealed it from the higher authorities, why, the order was: to obliterate all traces as quickly as possible; so, by not carrying out that order, they desisted from it.

    Thanks to that there are still two large graves left with ashes on the terrain of the second and third crematorium. Masses of ashes [from burnt corpses] of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Russians, Poles, were strewn and ploughed in on the sites of the crematoria. In the area of the fourth and fifth crematorium there are also small quantities of ash. There it was at once ground and taken to the Vistula, because all that area was destined for “burning the bridge”!!!

    The notebook and other notes have lain in the graves, getting saturated with the blood of not always entirely burnt bones and pieces of flesh. One can recognize the odour at once.

    Dear finder, search everywhere, in every inch of soil. Tens of documents are buried under it, mine and those of other persons, which will throw light on everything that was happening here. Great quantities of teeth are also buried here. It was we, the Kommando workers, who expressly have strewn them all over the terrain, as many as we could, so that the world should find material traces of the millions of murdered people. We ourselves have lost hope of being able to live to see the moment of liberation. In spite of good news that reaches us, we see that the world gives the barbarians the opportunity of destruction on an immense scale and of tearing out with roots the last remainder of the Jewish nation. Under our eyes tens of thousands of Jews from the Czech and Slovakian regions are now perishing. Those Jews could have certainly lived to see freedom. But everywhere where danger approaches the barbarians, from every place which they have to leave, they take the remnants of Jews still alive and bring them to Birkenau-Auschwitz or to Stutthof near Gdansk. This is known thanks to the reports of persons who had come from there to us, too.

    We, the “Sonderkommando,” had long since wanted to put a stop to our horrible work which we were forced to do under threat of death. We wanted to do great things. But people from the camp, a section of the Jews, Russians and Poles, have restrained us with all might and have forced us to put off the date of the mutiny. That day is approaching. It may happen today or tomorrow. I am writing these words in a moment ofthe greatest danger and excitement. May the future judge us on the base of my notes and may the world see in them, if only one drop, the minimum, of this tragic world amidst which we had lived.

    September 6,1944.

    Salmen Gradowski.232

    The uprising, which had been originally planned to happen in June, occurred one month later, on October 7,1944. Gradowski was one of the leaders of the revolt. The uprising failed. The Germans captured and tortured Gradowski, and crushed his skull.233

    The notebook that accompanied the letter contained a detailed description of Gradowski’s deportation to Auschwitz. He described how tension mounted in the train when it passed Bialystok on its way to Warsaw.

    The train accelerated its motion. Everyone plunged again into an atmosphere of absolute despondency. The sadness grew with every kilometre and with every kilometre the emptiness became greater. What happened? Here we are approaching the ill-famed station of Treblinka,234” so tragic for the Jews, where, according to information which had filtered through to us, the majority of Poles and Jews from abroad were swallowed up and wiped out. Everyone is looking through the small windows and is searching for something in silence. They will, maybe, notice something, find some sign which would tell them the truth. Somebody, perhaps, would stand in the road and would tell them whither they are being led and what is awaiting them. Oh, how horrible!235

    The train passes two women who make a gesture across their throat. Then the train begins to slow down.

    The train has stopped, two thousand five hundred persons held their breaths. Teeth were chattering with fright and hearts were beating like mad. This great human mass, bathed in deadly sweat, is awaiting the coming minutes. Each second is an eternity, each second–a step nearer to death. All have grown numb in the expectation of satan’s hand, reaching out, which will soon snatch them with its claws and will hurl them into this abyss. The whistle awakened them from their torpor. The train wrenched itself free of death and continued on; its route. Mothers are kissing their children, husbands are kissing their wives. Tears of joy are shed, all have wakened to live and have heaved sighs of relief. A fresh surge of hopeful thoughts has mastered everyone. The belief that all these versions are untrue has begun to be strengthened. The fear is slowly fading away, the fright is vanishing. There is no foundation for all the bad news and anticipations. They are the result and the echo of some single horrible happening but not of mass phenomena. You can therefore notice now how everybody has plucked up his courage, deeming they were taken to live, perhaps to live a hard life, but still a life.236

    In the end, their optimism proved without foundation. After a gruelling journey, the train stopped in Auschwitz, and the passengers were subjected to selection.

    Men have to stand separately, women separately. This order came like a thunderclap upon all. Now, when one is standing at the last stage, when one has come to the journey’s end, one is ordered to separate, to cleave that which is indissoluble, which has been united and has grown into one inseparable whole. Nobody stirs from the spot, not being able to believe that which is unbelievable. It is not possible for something unreal to become real, a fact. But a rain of blows which the foremost ranks of people standing there had felt acted so that even in the farther ranks families had begun to separate.[…] It was thought that the formal procedure had begun of establishing the exact number of newcomers, both sexes separately. It was felt that the most important was approaching, when necessity arose to solace one another and to raise one another’s spirits. The strength of indissoluble family ties was still felt. Here are two persons standing, the husband on one side, the wife and the child on the other. Older people are standing, an old father and opposite the mother, weak already. Brothers are standing there, looking in the direction of their dear sisters. Nobody knows what is going to happen next.237

    Gradowski described how men who tried to cross over to the women’s line were beaten up, and driven back, and how in the separation all the hope that had sustained them throughout their ordeal in the ghetto and the transit camp at Kielbasin was destroyed. “The thought of staying together with the family, this opiate, which had kept up their spirits on the journey, has all at once stopped to act.”238 Lorries came up to transport the old people, the women and children.239 Gradowski was admitted into the camp.

    We are here in a camp of death. It is a lifeless island. Man does not come here to live but to die, sooner or later. There is no room for life here. It is the residence of death. Our brain has grown dull, the thoughts are numbed, it is not possible to grasp this new language. Everyone is meditating on where his family is. Where were they driven and how will they manage in the new conditions? Who knows how the mortally frightened children will behave seeing how their mothers are being maltreated?[…] All are standing helpless, worried, full of despair, lonesome, unhappy, broken.

    Bunks are being assigned. They are beds of boards, each for five, six numbers jointly. We are told to climb into them, to push in so far that only the head should be seen. Get inside as far as possible, you accursed man! You won’t be able to see each other. The old camp inmates come to the bunks and ask how many were left in the lager and what was the strength of the transport. We are unable to grasp the meaning of such questions. Of what significance is [the list] of these numbers? Where are those who left us driving away in lorries? They regard us with cynical smiles and heavy sighs escape their lips. This is the sign of human compassion with us. Among the camp inmates of long standing there was one from our [transit] camp who had come with the former transport we knew nothing about till now and lost all trace of it. We thought he would inform us about the fate of those men, would show us some trace from “the country of Yekes” [Germany ]. But what does this man tell us! What does he have to say!? The heart trembles. It makes our hair stand on end. Listen to what he is saying, “My dears, we have passed the same road as you did […] Those, who drove away in lorries, were led to death at once and those who went on foot also went to meet death–for some after a longer time of torture, for others after a shorter time.”240

    The journal recovered in March did not contain descriptions of Gradowski’s work as a Sonderkommando. In the Summer of 1945 a Pole found a second manuscript by Gradowski. He gave it to an Oswiecim native Chaim Walnerman, who took it with him to Israel, to publish it in the 1970s under the title In the Heart of Hell (I have been unable to trace a copy of this text within Canada). According to Nathan Cohen, the second manuscripts provides detailed descriptions of the murder of the inmates of the so-called family camp, and the incineration of their remains.241

    Remarkable as the discovery of Gradowski’s journal was, and the other gruesome discoveries the Soviet commission made, the Soviets chose not to use the camp as a major destination for foreign journalists. In August 1944, nothing much was happening on the front–in fact the Soviet armies had halted their advance in order to allow the Germans to crush the Warsaw uprising–and not only were many correspondents available to visit Maidanek, the concentration camp even provided a convenient decoy to detract western attention from the Soviet betrayal of the Polish underground army. Auschwitz was liberated just before the Yalta Conference. Exactly at the time that news of the liberation of Auschwitz reached Moscow, the allied leaders were gathered in the Crimea, and most western correspondents were there to cover the world-historical gathering. The moment the conference was over, they returned to the front to report on the enormous offensive which was to end with the conquest of Berlin. There was too much to cover, and the liberation of “another Maidanek” a couple of weeks earlier was not merely “old news,” but also of considerable less interest than, for example, the conquest of the industrial area of Upper Silesia, the siege of Breslau, the surrender of Danzig, or the crossing of the Oder river.

    Only in April, in the very last weeks of the war, did the concentration camps return to the frontpages of the press. With the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by British troops, and the liberation of Ohrdruf, Buchenwald and Dachau by the American army, for the first time large groups of western observers confronted the horrors of the camps, and within days pictures of mountains of emaciated corpses and starved inmates filled the newspapers and airwaves. The BBC program “War Report” aired on April 19 Richard Dimbleby’s report from Bergen-Belsen.

    I picked my way over corpse after corpse in the gloom, until I heard one voice raised above the gentle undulating moaning. I found a girl, she was a living skeleton, impossible to gauge her age for she had practically no hair left, and her face was only a yellow parchment sheet with two holes in it for eyes. She was stretching out her stick of an arm and gasping something, it was “English, English, medicine, medicine,” and she was trying to cry but she hadn’t enough strength. And beyond her down the passage and in the hut there were the convulsive movements of dying people too weak to raise themselves from the floor.

    In the shade of some trees lay a great collection of bodies. I walked about them trying to count, there were perhaps 150 of them flung down on each other, all naked, all so thin that their yellow skin glistened like stretched rubber on their bones. Some of the poor starved creatures whose bodies were there looked so utterly unreal and inhuman that I could have imagined that they never lived at all. They were like polished skeletons, the skeletons that medical students like to play practical jokes with.242

    “The British and Americans hailed the liberation of the camps as a proper and fitting capstone to their war effort,” Jon Bridgman wrote in his recent The End of the Holocaust.

    From the very beginning they had proclaimed that they were fighting against the evil of Naziism which if triumphed would usher in “a new Dark Age made more sinister by perverted science” [Churchill]. Liberation provided overwhelming evidence that the “New Dark Age” was no mere figure of speech. The deaths in battle of American and British soldiers were then invested with a kind of sanctity: after the opening of the camps who could say that they had died in vain?243

    With the liberation of the western camps, the name Auschwitz became once more of interest. Many of the surviving inmates in Belsen and Buchenwald had arrived there relatively recently, having been evacuated in January from Auschwitz. As journalists began to interview the survivors, they heard again and again that Belsen and Buchenwald had not been the worst. “The worst camps were those at Auschwitz, in Silesia, and Lublin, Poland where many of Buchenwald residents had been at one time or another,”244 the American journalist Helen Kirkpatrick noted. A correspondent of the Polish Telegraph Agency, who had witnessed the liberation of Buchenwald, also cabled to his head office in London that, for all its apparent horrors, “Buchenwald is not among the worst of the concentration camps. It was a camp of slow death, of death by exhaustion, sickness and hunger.” And he quoted one of the liberated prisoners, who had also been an inmate in Auschwitz, that “by comparison with Oswiecim, Buchenwald was a paradise.”245 The American intelligence officer Saul K.Padover, who visited the camp shortly after liberation, recorded how he met among the prisoners a Polish high-school teacher from Kattowitz, located at some 30 miles from Auschwitz.

    He had been through many camps, including the murder factory of Auschwitz(Oswiecim) where three million people, the majority of them Jewish men and women and children were gassed and then burned to death. The Pole, a Catholic, told it in a breaking voice, and as he talked he became hysterical and I had to put my hand on his shoulders to restrain him. “I saw them murder the Jews. God Almighty, do you know what it means to see human beings burned to death? They were God’s children, like us. God’s children, like everybody, except the Germans.”246

    On April 20, Radio Luxembourg’s German-language “Story of the Day,” prepared by a small group of German exiles serving the American army, carried an interview with an Auschwitz survivor who had been evacuated earlier that year first to Buchenwald and finally to in Ohrdruf.

    Q.: “You were in the concentration camp Auschwitz?”
    A.: “Yes, I was in Auschwitz since June 30,1944. Since then I was also for a shorter time in the concentration camps Buchenwald and Ohrdruf. I escaped with three comrades from Ohrdruf and was able to reach the American lines.
    Q.: “Can you tell us something more about Auschwitz?”
    A.: “Auschwitz was an extermination camp built by the Nazis. There between 12,000 and 20,000 people were killed on a daily basis.”
    Q.: “Between 12,000 and 20,000?”
    A.: “Yes. One can say with certainty that the Nazis killed more people in Auschwitz and the other concentration camps than have fallen during this whole war at the frontlines.”
    Q.: “Can you tell us how this terrible mass-extermination took place?”
    A.: “Every day some transports arrived in Auschwitz, each of between 2,000 and 3,000 people. At their arrival they were divided into two groups: men and women. Each of these two groups was again subdivided into two. In the one group were those above 50 years old, and those who the SS doctors deemed to be unfit for work. In the other group were the younger and stronger people. Those who belonged to the group of over 50-year olds–and to this group also belonged the small children and mothers who did not want to be separated from their children –were immediately killed.”
    Q.: “In what manner?”
    A.: “In Auschwitz were four enormous crematoria. Those condemned to death were led into these crematoria, had to undress themselves, and were gassed in a hall that was hermetically sealed. Then the corpses were incinerated in the same crematorium. The crematoria worked day and night. During the day heavy clouds of smoke hang over the camp, and by night the flames of the crematoria gave the camp a sinister glare. One could not escape the smell of burnt flesh.”247

    The name “Auschwitz” turned up again and again. Members of the British Parliament, who had visited Buchenwald on invitation of General Eisenhower, were quoted in The Times of April,28 that “[o]ne of the statements made to us most frequently by prisoners was that conditions in other camps, particularly those in Eastern Europe, were far worse than at Buchenwald.”

    The worst camp of all was said by many to be at Auschwitz; these men all insisted on showing us their Auschwitz camp numbers, tattooed in blue on their left forearms.248

    As the British Members of Parliament drafted their report, a special intelligence team of the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, headed by Lieutenant Albert G. osenberg, was busy interviewing former inmates in an effort to document the atrocities. They were assisted by a group of prisoners, headed by the Austrian journalist and economist Dr. Eugen Kogon. The team interviewed some 150 people, and gathered in the process a number of important testimonies about Auschwitz and other extermination camps in the East. It is important to note that, at the time that Rosenberg, Kogon and their colleagues took these testimonies, the Soviet commission had not yet published its results. One of witnesses was a fifteen-year old girl Janda Weiss, who had been deported to Birkenau a year earlier with a transport of 1,500 Jews from Theresienstadt.

    Out of 1,500 people the camp doctor, SS Captain [Josef] Mengele, selected ninety-eight. I was among the “strong.” We immediately went into the camp; the rest of the family camp were gassed. In camp I became a helper in the kitchen. I visited the barracks of the Jewish work detail, which worked in the crematorium. These comrades told me about the horrors of the crematorium, where I would later work. After May 19 [1944] the Hungarian transports began arriving, with around 7,000 people daily.

    I will now describe the crematoriums and the transports. At the station 2,000 people got off the trains. They had to throw away all their luggage. Afterward the men and women were divided into two groups, at which the larger boys were assigned to the group with the men. Then the great devourer of Jews, Mengele, drove by in a car, seeking out the strongest from each transport. They numbered around thirty out of 2,000. The remainder were led away by SS Technical Sergeant Moll, the officer of the crematorium. The elderly were loaded onto dump trucks and then dumped into burning trenches while still alive. The remainder were led into the gas chambers. Meanwhile new transports were arriving.

    In front of the gas chamber was a dressing room. On its walls was written in all languages: “Put shoes into the cubbyholes and tie them together so you will not lose them. After the showers you will receive hot coffee.” Here the poor victims undressed themselves and went into the chamber. There were three columns for the ventilators, through which the gas poured in. A special work detail with truncheons drove the people into the chamber. When the room was full, small children were thrown in through a window. Moll grabbed infants by their little legs and smashed their skulls against the wall. Then the gas was let into the chamber. The lungs of the victims slowly burst, and after three minutes a loud clamoring could be heard. Then the chamber was opened, and those who still showed signs of life were beaten to death.

    The prisoners of the special work details (Sonderkommandos) then pulled the corpses out, took their rings off, and cut their hair, which was gathered up, put in sacks, and shipped to factories. Then they arranged the corpses in piles of ten each. After Moll had counted them, they were taken to the ovens, or if the crematoriums were insufficient, thrown into fire trenches….

    Once an Italian woman, a dancer, was brought to the crematorium. That drunken pig, the roll call officer Schillinger, ordered her to dance naked. She took advantage of a favorable moment, came near him, grabbed his pistol away from him, and shot him down.249 In the exchange of gunfire that followed, the SS won of course. Once Moll took a family of six. First he shot the youngest in the presence of the rest, then he shot the older ones and finally the father and the mother. Thousands of women with shaved heads asked about their children and husbands. I lied to thousands of women, telling them that there loved ones were still alive, even though I knew very well that they were dead.250

    The German Jew Walter Blass testified that Jews were not only subjected to selection on arrival. This procedure was also a regular occurrence for those imprisoned in the camp.

    Selection–that was a terrifying word for every Jew in Auschwitz. It hung like the sword of damocles over each Jew. All Jews who were injured at work or in bomb attacks, who had wounds (and how many flesh wounds there were!) or skin rashes, who had fever or malaria, who were afflicted by typhus, as well as the great number of undernourished, called “Muslims” [Muselmänner]–all, all of them, were murdered.

    Selections occurred at irregular intervals, sometimes after two or three months, then after four to five months, then again, as in January 1944, twice within two weeks. These last selections alone took from the men’s camps B II d in Birkenau 1,200 victims each, out of about 4,000 Jews, so around two-thirds of the Jewish prisoners were liquidated. At this time there were in Auschwitz and the immediate vicinity around thirty camps for men and two camps for women with varied number of prisoners. A total of 40 percent of the men and 60 to 70 percent of the women were murdered in January [1944].

    If the SS doctor came with his staff, the cards had to be quickly altered (“non-Aryans” became “Aryans”). Jews had to undress completely and were quickly observed front to rear. Then, according to whim, they were sent to the right to record the prisoner number tattooed on the arm; that meant the death sentence. Or they were sent to the left, that is, back to the barracks; that meant a prolongation of life.

    When the “action” had been completed in the entire camp, those selected for death by gassing were transferred to the gassing barracks. There they were placed under especially strict guard, since they were “condemned to death.” Often they remained there for two to three days, usually without food, since they were already considered to be “disposed of” [abgesetzt]. They remained in the throes of death, a death only these totally depraved Nazi beasts could think of.251

    The interest in the camps generated by Belsen and Buchenwald and the various references appearing in the western press to Auschwitz offered the Polish government-in-exile a good opportunity to present the atrocities of Auschwitz to the western public. The first substantial report to appear after the liberation of Auschwitz was entitled “Polish Women in German Concentration Camps,” and it was published in the May 1,1945 issue of the Polish Fortnightly Review. The article consisted of two eye-witness testimonies, some statistics, and a note on medical experiments in the women’s camp. The first testimony was entitled “An Eye-Witnesses’s Account of the Women’s Camp at Oswiecim-Brzezinka (Birkenau)–Autumn,1943,to Spring,1944,” and like all the other articles published in The Polish Fortnightly Review, it was anonymous. It is, however, clear that it was written shortly after the beginning of the Hungarian Action.252

    At the outset I want to say that the details given below are strictly true and authentic. They are not dictated by any desire for propaganda, by hatred, or by love of exaggeration. On the contrary, instead of making the picture more glaring, I shall try to tone it down, to make it more credible. For the reality I have to write about is so horrible that it is difficult to believe it. Yet it is reality, and believe my words as you would believe someone returned from the dead.253

    The report began with some figures. At the time the author escaped, the serial numbers of new inmates had gone up in the 80,000s, of whom some 65,000 had died. Most of the dead were Jewish women. Then the account discussed the conditions of work, the food, distinguishing marks, the camp administration, and a description of the physical lay-out of the camp itself.

    Health and strength, honour and life–it is not sufficient to deprive the prisoners of these in order to consummate the work of dehumanizing them: the prisoners must be robbed of their heart. Perhaps the greatest torment of a stay in the camp was the sight of the terrible tragedy of the Jews, which was open to all the camp to see. In Brzezinka there were six “chimneys,” or crematoria.254 They were never idle. Not an evening passes without the prisoners seeing flames leaping out of the broad chimneys, sometimes to a height of thirty feet. Not a day passes without heavy billows of smoke pouring from them. The cremating of the bodies of those who die in the camp is only a small part of the crematoria’s functions. They are intended for the living rather than the dead. And every day trains draw into the camp along the sideline bringing Jews from Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Poland, and until recently, from Russia.255 The trains bring men, women and children, and old people. Ten per cent of the women in each train are sent to the camp are given a number tattooed on them, a star on their clothing, and the numbers of those in the camp are thus increased. The others are sent straight to the gas chamber. The scenes which take place there defy all powers of description. But as ten per cent of the transports are brought to the camp amount to over thirty thousand Jewish women, what is the total figure of the victims whom the crematoria have consumed? It is terrible to think, terrible to watch when lorries pass through the Lagerstrasse, carrying four thousand children under ten years of age (children from the ghetto in Terezin in Bohemia) to their death. Some of them are weeping and calling “mummy,” others were laughing at the passers by and waving their hands. Fifteen minutes later not one of them was left alive, and the gas-stupefied little bodies were burning in the horrible furnaces. But who will believe that this is true? Yet I swear that it was so, calling on the living and the dead as my witnesses.256

    The second account only dealt with the living conditions in Birkenau, and this was followed by a table showing the monthly gassing rate of registered inmates in the women’s camp for 1943. The average number was a little over 1,600 persons per month.257

    On May 6 units of the American army liberated a concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. One of the inmates was the 43-year-old painter David Olère. Born in Warsaw, Olère had moved to Paris is 1923 where he found work making posters and designing film sets. Arrested in February 1943, he had been deported to Auschwitz on March 2 of that year. He was assigned to the Sonderkommando of crematorium 3. A fellow Sonderkommando Don Paisikovic recalled after the war that among the few Sonderkommando who were not gassed was “a Parisian Jew named ‘Oler.'”

    He was an artist and during the whole time that I knew the commando, his only task was to do paintings for the SS. He was excused from all other work of the Sonderkommando. We knew that apart from the exceptions mentioned, all the detainees of the ex-Sonderkommando were gassed.258

    Olère lived in the attic of crematorium 3, and observed both the building and its operation.

    After his liberation Olère returned home to Paris. There he began to draw his memories: over 50 sketches done in 1945 and 1946. These sketches remained unknown until they were first exhibited in 1976. They provide a very important visual record of the design and operation of the gas chamber and the incinerators of crematorium 3, made before information about that building was published. The first two architectural sketches that are of great importance are pen drawings dated 1945 and 1946, and are “cleaned up” versions of pencil sketches made in 1945. One of them, done in 1945, provides a plan of crematorium 3, the second, done in 1946, a section.259 The plan is a composite of the basement level with the underground undressing room and the gas chamber which jotted out beyond the footprint of the building (left), and the ground floor with the incineration room with the 15 cremation ovens, the chimney, incinerator for identity papers, the coke store, and the SS guard rooms. Arrows indicate the functional relationship between the various rooms from the undressing room (1) people went through the vestibule (2)to the gas chamber (3)to be killed. SS men overseeing the operation could enter the basement by a separate stairway connecting to the yard(13). After the gassing Sonderkommando moved the bodies to the elevator (4)which ascended to open into the incineration room (5), where other Sonderkommando filled the 15 incineration muffles of the ovens (0). The coke was brought with a truck running on a rails from the coke store(11) to the back of the ovens (0).Through five underground flues the smoke left the ovens to;the massive chimney (7) Olère’s plan is fully corroborated by the plans that were found by the Russians in the building of the Central Construction Office, and which will be discussed below. One detail of particular importance which cannot be found on the blueprints recovered from the Auschwitz building archive is the staggered arrangement of the four hollow wire-mesh columns (marked 10) in the gas chamber (marked 3) through which the Zyklon-B was inserted into the room. As we will see below, there are various eye-witness accounts of these hollow columns, but they do not appear in the original blueprints as they were only added to the building shortly before completion. Olère’s staggered arrangement is confirmed by air photos of Birkenau taken by the Americans on August 25,1944, and can be explained by assuming that these wire-mesh columns were attached on the west side of the first and fifth structural column that supported the roof of the gas chamber, and on the east side of the third and seventh structural column.

    The corresponding section, drawn in 1946,is a complex drawing that shows much information in an economical manner. At the underground level Olère depicted the undressing room to the west or left (marked A), with on the extreme left the staircase that provided the principal access to this space. As the undressing room was not equipped with a ventilation system built-in the walls, it was equipped with metal ventilation ducts that were suspended from the ceiling. Olère also depicts the benches and the clothing hooks. To the east or right of undressing room is the vestibule with the corpse elevator to the ground floor (C), and the gas chamber (D). In order to represent the gas chamber, which projected outwards to the north of the building at the back, and would have been hidden by the vestibule, Olère defied convention and turned it 90° from a south-north to a west-east axis, so that it is depicted under the incineration room (which had no basement). The most important information contained in this part of the drawing are the four hollow wire-mesh columns(E). For the section of the incineration hall Olère turned the five triple-muffle ovens 180° so that the muffles are visible. Important details are also to forced-air blowers to the side of each furnace,and;the coal truck which supplied the back of the furnaces with coal, while the corpses were loaded on the front.

    In a number of other sketches, Olère provided additional information about crematorium 3. One drawing from 1945 shows crematorium 3 from the outside, with people filing into the compound from the road along the tracks, moving towards the end of the undressing room. A second sketch, dated 1946, shows the interior of the undressing room, with the benches, hooks, and the ventilation system. A third drawing shows the interior of the gas chamber with Sonderkommando collecting gold teeth and the hair of the women. In the back is depicted one of the hollow wire-mesh columns. Finally a fourth drawing shows the incineration hall with at the back, the corpse elevator that connects the basement level to the ground floor. The information in all of these drawings were to be corroborated in the testimony of the Sonderkommando Henryk Tauber(see below)and the blueprints found in the Central Construction Office (see below). None of these drawings could have been made on the basis of published material, as it was simply not available at the time.

    Two other drawings are of interest. One, dated 1945 shows bunker 2–a peasant cottage transformed into a gas chamber in 1942, taken out of commission in 1943, and brought back into operation during the Hungarian Action. In shows not only bunker 2, but also the undressing barrack in its correct position vis-a-vis the cottage. Of particular interest is the small window in the side of the cottage with the heavy wooden shutter. This was the opening through which the SS introduced the Zyklon-B into the room. The same way of introducing the gas was adopted in crematoria 4 and 5, and not only the plans, elevations and photographs of the crematoria show these openings, but three of these shutters still survive, and are presently stored in the coke room of crematorium 1. Even in its details, Olère’s drawing is supported by surviving material evidence.

    The second drawing depicts the execution of women and children at the edge of an incineration pit behind crematorium 5. It shows, to the left, crematorium 5 depicted again archaeologically correct, with to the far end the higher shed with the incineration rooms with the two chimneys, and closer to the main scene the lower wing with the gas chambers. Olère depicted again one of the small windows with the heavy wooden shutters. Drawn from memory, the elevation of the gas chamber is not perfect: the short side contained in reality a door and two of these Zyklon-B insertion points. But in its essentials Olère’s representation is correct: the crematorium was a higher shed with two chimneys to which was attached a lower wing with small highly placed windows closed with heavy shutters.

    On the same day that the Americans liberated Olère, May 6, 1945, the Soviet State Extraordinary Commission for the Investigation of Fascist and Nazi Crimes issued its findings, which were made available to the press a day later by the Soviet News Agency Tass.260 The Soviet Embassy in Washington D.C. published the English version of the whole report on May 29, 1945 under the lengthy title “Statement of the Extraordinary State Committee For the Ascertaining and Investigation of Crimes Committed by the German-fascist Invaders and Their Associates On Crimes Committed by the German-fascist Invaders in the Oswiecim Death Camp.” The report began with the statement that, on the basis of the interviews with the former inmates, study of German documents found, and inspection of the remains of the crematoria, the commission had come to the conclusion that

    One: By execution, starvation, poisoning, and monstrous tortures, the Germans annihilated in Oswiecim camp more than four million citizens of the Soviet Union, Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary and other countries.

    Two: German professors and doctors conducted in the camp so-called medical experiments on living men, women and children.

    Three: In the degree of premeditation, technical organization, and mass scale and cruelty of murder, the Oswiecim camp leaves far behind all German camps known hitherto.

    The Oswiecim camp had gas chambers, a crematorium, and crematoria, surgical departments and laboratories–all designed for the monstrous annihilation of people. The Germans called the gas chambers “special purpose baths.” On the entrance to the “bath” was written “For Disinfection,” and at the exit “Entrance to the baths.” People earmarked for annihilation thus unsuspectingly entered the premises for disinfection, undressed and from there were herded into the special purpose bath–that is, into the gas chambers where they were wiped out by cyclone poison.

    Special hospitals, surgical wings, histological laboratories and other installations were established in the camp not to heal people, but to kill them. German professors and doctors carried out wholesale experiments on perfectly healthy men, women and children in these institutions. They conducted experiments in sterilizing women and castrating men and boys, in infecting large numbers of people with cancer, typhus and malaria, conducting observations upon them; they tested the action of poisons on them.261

    Following these introductory paragraphs, the report presented the issues raised in greater detail. First of all it provided a short account of the development of the camp, in which it gave prominence to the role of the firm Topf & Sons, suppliers of incineration equipment. The report mentioned that the Soviets had recovered a large correspondence between Topf and the camp administration, and it printed two letters as evidence–letters which, in the translation from German to Russian, and back to German, lost some of their original meaning.

    I.A. Topf & Sons Erfurt February 12, 1943. Central Construction SS and Police, Auschwitz (Oswiecim) Re: Crematoriums Two and Three of camp for war prisoners.

    We confirm receipt of your telegram of February 10 of the following content: We again confirm receipt of your order for five triple muffle furnaces, including two electric lifts for hoisting corpses and one temporary lift for corpses. Also ordered are a practical device for feeding coal, and a device for transporting ashes. You have to deliver complete installation for crematorium No.3. We expect you to take all steps for immediate shipment of all machines and parts. Installation must absolutely begin functioning on April 10,1943.

    I.A. Topf and Sons. No. 12, 115/42/er/na 2

    With regard to the installation of two triple muffle ovens; one each for the “special purpose baths,” engineer Pruefer has proposed taking them from furnaces prepared for shipment to Mogilev. The head of the Service Section of the SS Economic Administration of the Central Department in Berlin was immediately notified of this and requested to issue further instruction.

    SS-Untersturmführer (S) Oswiecim, August 21, 1942. 262

    A page-long description followed of the gas chambers and incinerators. The report estimated that the Germans were able to kill and burn between 10,000 and 12,000 people per day–that is between 8,000 and 10,000 arriving deportees and between 2,000 and 3,000 inmates. It quoted surviving Sonderkommando Dragon and Tauber, and repeated the assertion that the crematoria could incinerate between 10,000 and 12,000 corpses per day.

    The next parts of the report considered various issues: 1. the medical experiments; 2. the constant arrivals of transports from all over Europe –between three to five trains a day, each carrying between 1,500 and 3,000 deportees. The Germans selected from each train between 300 and 500 for work, and killed the remainder; 3. the exploitation of labour at IG Farben in such a way that people were completely expendable in a terrible “moving belt of death “; 4. the murder of hundreds of thousands of children; 5. the liquidation of intellectuals and scientists from all over Europe. 6. the mass plunder of possessions of the deportees: the report included an accurate accounting of the remaining loot found in the camp–348,820 men’s suits, 836,255 women’s coats and dresses, 5,525 women’s shoes, 38,000 men’s shoes, 13,964 carpets and so on–apart from seven railway wagons filled with another 514,843 garments ready for shipment to Germany, and 293 bags with women’s hair weighing 7,000 kilos, and having probably belonged to 140,000 women.

    The penultimate section of the report dealt with the German attempt to obliterate the traces of their crimes by destroying all documents concerning the number of people put to death in the Auschwitz camp. Yet the commission determined, on the basis of the remains of the crematoria, the testimonies of prisoners and other witnesses, and various documents that millions of people were annihilated, poisoned and burned in Auschwitz. Most important in their determination of the number of victims was their assessment of the capacity of the crematoria. Crematorium 1, so it was estimated, had had a monthly incineration capacity of 9,000 corpses. Having been in operation for 24 months, it was assumed that it had had a burning capacity of 216,000 bodies. Crematoria 2 and 3 were estimated to each have had a monthly capacity of 90,000 corpses. As they had been in operation for 19 and 18 months, they would have been able to incinerate together a total of 3,330,000 corpses. Crematoria 4 and 5 were estimated at 45,000 bodies per month, and as they had been in function for 17 and 18 months, they had together over that time a cremation capacity of 1,575,000 bodies. In total the five crematoria would have been able to burn, at least in theory, 5,121,000 bodies. Added to that was an extra capacity provided by the pyres.

    Making allowances for possible undercapacity operation of the crematoriums and stoppages, however, the Commission of technical experts established that during the existence of the Oswiecim camp the German executioners killed in it no less than four million citizens of the USSR., Poland, France, Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Holland, Belgium, and other countries.263

    The report ended with putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the German government.

    The Soviet investigation done by the Prosecution Office of the First Ukrainian Front had been short, and hurried, as the Army Group to which it belonged was at the time involved in heavy fighting: the conquest of Silesia, the siege of Breslau, and the final “Battle for Berlin” had a substantially higher priority than a forensic investigation in what quickly became the army rear. Yet, compared to the Polevoi account, the new report heralded an important step forward, and Polevoi’s description of an extermination machine, that consisted of an “electric conveyor belt, on which hundreds of people were simultaneously electrocuted, their bodies falling onto the slow moving conveyor belt which carried them to the top of the blast furnace where they fell in,” was relegated to the dustbin of history. In general, the description of the operation of the camp and the life of the inmates was to be confirmed by the more careful investigations of the ensuing years.

    Yet the report contained one very monumental error: the assertion that at least four million people had been murdered at Auschwitz. This figure was based on what was an admittedly quick and crude calculation of the supposed incineration capacity of the crematoria. Yet there were also other factors that influenced this assessment. Most importantly of all, the forensic investigation in Auschwitz was done in the wake of the publication of the Maidanek report, and according to the latter the Germans had killed about 1.5 million people in Maidanek. As we have seen it would take two years before this figure was revised downward to 360,000 victims. In 1945 Maidanek provided the measurestick to estimate the number of victims of Auschwitz, and in every aspect the latter camp was considerably larger. The six completed compounds of Maidanek held 144 barracks; the main compounds of Birkenau held more than twice that number, to which could be added the camp at Auschwitz I, the camp at Monowitz, and the many satellite camps. In Maidanek the crematorium had five ovens; the four crematoria in Birkenau had nine times as many. Given these statistics, the commission, without any substantial data about the number of transports that had arrived at the camp, was inclined to see the number of victims as a multiple of that of Maidanek.264

    The response to the revelation was limited. There were many other things on people’s minds. In the West, the main news concerned the collapse and official surrender of the German Reich, the chaos everywhere, and the political re-arrangement of Europe. As far as the concentration camps were concerned, attention remained focussed on the camps liberated by the English and the Americans–most specifically Bergen Belsen and Dachau. While striking visual material from these camps and the deeply emotional observations of journalists and soldiers continued to remain directly available to the media, the English-language version of the Soviet report contained only one small picture showing a close-up of the bodies of Auschwitz victims.

    While the media turned their backs to the camps to report on the issues of the day, serious forensic investigations at Auschwitz acquired momentum. The camp became one of the chief objects of study by the Polish Central Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. The commission, fashioned after the model of the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission, was given responsibility for producing a full account of all the Nazi crimes in Poland. Judging its work by today’s standards, one must admit that it tried to establish historical truth with remarkable scholarly professionalism and following due legal form. In the foreword to the publication of the first reports, the commission took justifiable pride in the fact that they had worked “according to the principles which are valid in all judicial proceedings–i.e. impartiality, proper caution in collecting evidence, and careful verification of witnesses ‘statements.” As to the reports themselves, the commission stated that “only data of unquestioned evidential value were considered fit for publication.”265

    The commission applied a great transparency of method, and a general willingness to state the limitations of knowledge. In the case of Treblinka the commission admitted that “an accurate calculation of the number of victims is at present impossible.”

    It will remembered that Treblinka ceased its activities in the autumn of 1943, so that the German authorities had enough time to wipe the traces of their crimes. The most reliable method of counting the number of victims is by counting the number of trainloads. The figures based on the dimensions of the gas chambers give no guarantee whatever of accuracy, as we do not know, firstly, how often the gas chambers were used, and, secondly, the number of people who, on average, were gassed at any one time.

    In establishing the number of train-loads, the commission based its findings on the evidence given by witnesses, laying special stress on the statements of railway workers and on the railway records from Treblinka station, which are in the possession of the commission of enquiry.266

    The commission established that between the middle of August 1942 and the middle of December 1942 at least one train arrived every day at the camp, and that the average number of wagons in those trains was 50. From the middle of December to the middle of May, 1943, the average was one train per week. As a result, “the total number of wagon-loads of victims from August 1, 1942 to May 15, 1943 may be taken, with some certainty, to have been 7,550.” In the late summer of 1943 another 266 wagons arrived. Taking an average load of 100 person per wagon, the Polish commission came to a “probable” figure of 731,600 victims. And they added that, taking into consideration the great caution with which the investigators assessed the number of train-loads and the average number of persons per wagon, this must be accepted as probable, that in actual fact the number of victims was even larger.”267 They were right. Careful and methodic research on the German liquidation of the Jewish communities in Poland, done in the years that followed, showed that in total 856,190 Jews were sent to Treblinka. Very few survived.268

    In Auschwitz the highly competent and scrupulous Judge Dr.Jan Sehn of the Cracow court led on behalf of the commission a very thorough, year-long forensic and historical investigation in Auschwitz. In this process he and his colleagues questioned and re-questioned many witnesses, amongst which the surviving Sonderkommandos Dragon and Tauber, who had already testified for the Soviet-Polish commission, and Alter Feinsilber (alias Stanislaw Jankowski), who had only been able to return to Poland after the Soviet-Polish commission had completed its work.

    Jankowski was the first Sonderkommando to testify before Sehn’s commission. On April 16 he was questioned in Cracow by Sehn’s deputy, Edward Pechalski. Jankowski explained that he fought in Spain on the Republican side, and that after the fall of Barcelona he had crossed into France, where he had been interned. After the German invasion he escaped, ended up in Paris, where he was arrested as a Jew, interned in Drancy, to be deported to Auschwitz in March 1942. After an initial stay in Birkenau he was transferred to Auschwitz, where he worked in a carpentry shop. In November 1942 Jankowski was detailed to work in crematorium 1. At that time, the gas chamber of crematorium 1 was only sporadically used for killing people, having reverted back to its original function as a morgue.

    The only gassing I knew about had taken place in November or December 1942. Over three hundred and ninety persons were then gassed, all of them Jews of various nationalities, employed in the Sonderkommando at Birkenau.269 The gassing took place in the Leichenhalle. I heard from people working in the crematorium that before that gassing several other actions of that kind had taken place in the same Leichenhalle and in several rooms in the crematorium. Thanks to my own observations I know the following details of the gassing of that Sonderkommando. I was already employed in the crematorium at that time. We got the order to clear the Leichenhalle which was to be used for a larger transport. As there were many corpses collected in the mortuary at that time, we worked two days and two nights and cremated all corpses. I remember that after the mortuary had been cleared on Wednesday at about 11 a.m. Those three hundred and ninety odd from Birkenau were brought into the yard under a strong escort of SS men (two SS men for every five prisoners). We, Jews, were told to leave the mortuary and to go to the coke store. When we were permitted to return to the yard after some time, we found there only the clothes of those prisoners. Then we were ordered to pass to the Leichenhalle were we found the corpses. After writing down the camp numbers of the gassed prisoners we had to carry the corpses to the cremators.270

    In July 1943 Jankowski was transferred to Birkenau, to join the squad of 120 prisoners that operated crematorium 5. According to Jankowski, crematoria 2 and 3 each had an incineration capacity of 2,500 corpses, while crematoria 4 and 5 could burn 1,500 each.

    At first prisoners were brought to Birkenau from the Auschwitz station by cars.271 They were told at the station that those who were weak or unwell could get into cars and would be brought thus to the camp. Many people believed this and in many cases they were young and healthy. All those who had come by cars went to be gassed. Moreover, old people, pregnant women and children were selected in each transport and they were also gassed. Circa 50%of each transport went to be gassed. At that time transports of Greek Jews were arriving (about 50,000), transports of French Jews (every two weeks circa 1,000 persons from the famous camp in France), Belgians, Dutchmen (circa 15,000), Germans, Italians (circa 20,000), large transports of Slovakian and Polish Jews. I remember that one week only 35,000 Jews from Katowice, Bedzin and Sosnowiec arrived to be gassed. Also Jews from Cracow went to be gassed. The Jews from Theresienstadt did not go straight to gas chambers. They were, at first, put in the families’ camp and were gassed precisely 6 months after their arrival. The first transport from Theresienstadt consisted of about 3,500 persons; all of them were gassed and cremated in the crematorium.272

    Moreover, several less numerous groups of Poles, who were arrested charged with affiliation to political organizations, were gassed and cremated at Birkenau. I remember the cremating of a group of 250 persons, belonging to the Union of Armed Fighting, the leader of which was a woman, Ela, I did not learn her surname. I state that all these people were cremated without having been entered in the records. And so, too, all those who went straight to be gassed at Birkenau were not registered, both old people and women, children, above all, also all those who professed to be ill. The number of those who were not registered in the camp and who were cremated in the cremators at any rate surpassed many times the number of prisoners with camp numbers. Only those who were selected from the camp went to the cremators. The number of unregistered persons who were cremated amounts to several millions.273

    Later in his deposition Jankowski came back to this issue.

    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 registering was effected both in the cases of all those who went straight to the gas from transports and of those who for some considerations were not liquidated at once but, being beforehand destined for cremation, awaited their turn to come in special places of isolation.274

    Jankowski also testified that he had witnessed the incident in which a female deportee killed SS Oberscharführer Schillenger–an event which, a few days later, Janda Weiss would describe in some detail in her deposition given in Buchenwald.275 According to Jankowski, the zenith of killing occurred during the Hungarian Action.

    It was in July 1944, I should think, that the first transport of Hungarians had arrived. This was the first transport to be conveyed in vans as far as the crematoria, using the railway siding built expressly for that purpose. The unloading ramp was situated opposite crematoria 2 and 3, more or less-halfway between camps C and D. At that time about 18,000 Hungarians were daily murdered at Birkenau. Circa 30%of the then arriving transports, which kept coming one after another all day long, were selected to be put in the camp. They were registered in series A and B. The rest were gassed and cremated in the crematoria ovens. If the number of persons to be gassed was not sufficiently large, they would be shot and burned in pits. It was a rule to use the gas chamber for groups of more than 200 persons, as it was not worth while to put the gas chamber in action for a smaller number of persons.276 It happened that some prisoners offered resistance when about to be shot at the pit or that children would cry and then Oberscharführer Moll would throw them alive into the flames of the pits. I was eye-witness of the following incidents: Moll told a naked woman to sit down on the corpses near the pit and while he himself shot prisoners and threw their bodies into the flaming pit he ordered her to jump about and sing. She did so, in the hope, of course, of thus saving her life, perhaps. When he had shot them all he also shot this woman and her corpse was cremated.277

    Kankowski’s statements provided a solid basis for Sehn’s investigation. They were to be corroborated in the testimonies and confesions taken in the two years that followed.

    On May 10 Sehn took the testimony of Dragon concerning the operation of Bunker 2, the gas chamber in the grove of birch forests that had been the site of most of the mass killings in the second half of 1942 and the first months of 1943. As we have seen earlier, Dragon became a Sonderkommando in December 1942, and he was put to work at Bunker 2 to haul the bodies of those killed from the gas chambers into the yard.

    We were all given masks, and were led through the door into the cottage. Moll opened the door, and only then could we see that the cottage was full of naked corpses of both sexes and all ages. Moll ordered us to remove these corpses from the cottage through the door to the yard. We started work with four men carrying one body. This annoyed Moll. He rolled up his sleeves, and threw a body through the door into the yard. When, despite this example, we said we were incapable of doing that, he detailed two of us to carry each body. Once the corpses were in the yard, a dental technician, assisted by an SS man, pulled out the teeth A barber, also watched by an SS man, shaved off the hair….After having removed all the bodies from the cottage, we had to clean it thoroughly, wash the floor with water, spread it with sawdust, and whitewash the walls. The interior of the cottage was divided into four rooms by partition walls. One,in which one could house 1200 naked people, the second with a capacity of 700, the third of 400, and the fourth with a capacity of between 200 and 250.278

    Dragon told how he was later transferred to Crematorium 5, where he worked in the garden, and was employed cutting lumber in the adjacent forest. During the Hungarian action he was once more employed to remove bodies from the gas chambers of Crematorium 5. These rooms, which were attached in an annex to the main building itself, resembled in many ways the arrangement of Bunker 2. Also the procedure was similar, with an SS throwing Zyklon B crystals through a little window located in the outer wall of the gas chambers. Only in this case the window had been created at such height that one needed a small ladder to reach it. After the gassing Moll opened the doors of the gas chambers.

    We put on our gas masks and pulled the bodies out of the various rooms through a short corridor into the undressing room and from there, once more through a short corridor, to the ovens. In the first vestibule, the one with the entrance doors, the barbers shaved the heads, in the second the dentists removed the teeth. In front of the ovens we put the bodies on an iron stretcher, which then were inserted into the ovens by means of iron rolls fixed to the ovens.279 We put the bodies on the stretchers in such a way that the first was head first, and both other corpses were with their heads to the back. In each oven we put three bodies at a time. By the time the third was put in, the first already started to burn. I saw how the hands of the corpses lifted, and later also the feet. In general we had to hurry, however, and could not observe the whole process of incineration. We had to hurry because, when the end of the burning corpses began to rise, we often got problems in inserting the third corpse. We handled the stretcher in such a way that two inmates lifted the side that was farthest away from the oven and one at the end that was inserted first into the oven. After we moved the stretcher in one of the inmates held the corpse back with a long iron pole. We called it a rake with its end turned. The two others then pulled the stretcher out from under the dead.280

    Cremation lasted for 15 to 20 minutes, and after that time they just opened the door and inserted new bodies. In a three month period during the summer of 1944 the ovens were worked in two shifts, one from 6.30 am to 6.30 pm, and one from 6.30 pm to 6.30 am.

    Remains at the site corroborated Dragon’s account, and on orders of Jan Sehn the local engineer M.Nosal, himself an ex-inmate of the camp, drew up detailed drawings that showed the lay-out of Bunker 2, the site plan with the undressing barracks, Bunker 2, the tracks, and the four incineration pits. Dragon was precise and reliable when he talked about what he had witnessed in person. But he proved less reliable as an accountant. When on 17 May he was asked about the total number of Jews killed in Auschwitz, he answered that he was unable to give a precise number. “I think the total number gassed in the two bunkers and the four crematoria exceeded 4 million.”281

    One week after examining Dragon, Sehn interrogated the 28-year old former Sonderkommando Henry Tauber. If Dragon had been able to provide evidence about Bunker 2 and crematoria 4 and 5, Tauber had worked in crematorium 2. Tauber was very hesitant to estimate how many people had been gassed.

    At present, I am incapable of giving the exact number of all the people gassed and incinerated in the Krematorien and the pits. Some of the men working in the Krematorium noted individually and in secret the figures and the most dramatic events concerning the gassed persons. These notes were buried in different places close to the Krematorien. Some were dug up during the stay of the Soviet Commission and the Soviets took them away.282

    Yet in the end he was prepared to state that, during the period that he worked the crematoria(February 1943 to October 1944), two million people had been gassed. And he added that “during my time in Auschwitz, I was able to talk to various prisoners who had worked in the Krematorien and the bunkers before my arrival. They told me that I was not among the first to do this work, and that before I came another 2 million people had already been gassed in Bunkers 1 and 2 and Krematorium 1.” And he concluded that,”adding up, the total number of people gassed in Auschwitz amounted to about 4 million.”283

    Distinguishing clearly between what he accepted on the basis of his own observations, and what he accepted on hearsay, Tauber showed himself a reliable witness. Indeed, his testimony proved very important: his very long, and very detailed account of the operation of crematorium 1, where he worked from early February 1943 until March 4, crematorium 2, and crematorium 4 is almost wholly corroborated by the German blueprints of the buildings. Because of its importance, I will print significant parts of Tauber’s deposition.

    Tauber told that he arrived in Auschwitz on 19 January 1943, and initially he was billeted in sector B1b. At the beginning of February Tauber and 19 other inmates were transferred to the main camp to work in crematorium 1. After a pep talk by an SS man who told them that they better get accustomed to some unpleasant work, the group was brought to the “bunker” or the morgue/gas chamber filled with hundreds of corpses. They dragged these corpses to the furnace room. There they were instructed to load a truck that ran on rails with the corpses.

    Its strong frame was in the form of a box, and to make it heavier we weighted it with stones and scrap metal. The upper part was extended by a metal slide over two meters long. We put five corpses on this: first we put two with the legs towards the furnace and the belly upwards, then two more the other way round but still with the belly upwards, and finally we put the fifth one with the legs towards the furnace and the back upwards. The arms of this last one hung down and seemed to embrace the other bodies below.

    The weight of such a load sometimes exceeded that of the ballast, and in order to prevent the trolley from tipping up and spilling the corpses we had to support the slide by slipping a plank underneath it. Once the slide was loaded, we pushed it into the muffle.284 Once the corpses were introduced into the furnace, we held them there by means of a metal box that slid on top of the charging slide, while other prisoners pulled the trolley back, leaving the corpses behind. There was a handle at the end of the slide for gripping and pulling back the sliding box. Then we closed the door. In crematorium 1, there were three, two-muffle furnaces, as I have already mentioned. Each muffle could incinerate five human bodies. Thirty corpses could be incinerated at the same time in this crematorium. At the time when I was working there, the incineration of such a charge took up to an hour and a half, because they were the bodies of very thin people, real skeletons, which burned very slowly. I know from the experience gained by observing cremation in Krematorien 2 and 3 that the bodies of fat people burn very much faster. The process of incineration is accelerated by the combustion of human fat which thus produces additional heat.285

    Tauber went on to describe the lay-out of crematorium 1 in early 1943. At the back of the incineration room were a coke storage room and a store for urns. On inspection of the building in 1945, Tauber noted that the arrangement had changed: the door that connected in 1945 the “bunker” (morgue/gas chamber) and the furnace room had obviously been a new addition.286 “When I was working in crematorium 1, that door did not exist.” The only entrance to the furnace room had been through the vestibule. That same vestibule gave access to a store room, which at times was used as an undressing room.

    The men from small transports, brought by truck, used to undress there. When I was working at crematorium 1, they were shot in the bunker of the crematorium (the part of the building where they gassed people known as the “bunker”).287 Such transports arrived once or twice a week and comprised 30 to 40 people. They were of different nationalities. During the executions, we, the members of the Sonderkommando were shut up in the coke store. Then we would find the bodies of the shot people in the bunker. All the corpses had a firearm wound in the neck. The executions were always carried out by the same SS man from the Political Section, accompanied by another SS from the same Section who made out the death certificates for those shot.288

    Tauber told how access to the “bunker” was through a second room that opened to the vestibule. As the longer-serving members of the Sonderkommando told him, this “bunker” had been previously been used for gassing people, but when Tauber worked in crematorium 1 he only witnessed shootings in that space.

    One of the odd things Tauber noted that while he was at work in crematorium 1, his group was actually designated “Kommando Krematorium II.” On March 4 everything became clear, when the whole group was sent to Birkenau to operate crematorium 2. “We had been sent there for one month’s practical training in crematorium 1 in order to prepare us for working in crematorium 2.”

    Crematorium 2 had a basement where there was an undressing room and a bunker, or in other words a gas chamber (Leichenkeller/corpse cellar). To go from one cellar to the other, there was a corridor in which there came from the exterior a (double) stairway and a slide for throwing the bodies that were brought to the camp to be incinerated in the crematorium. People went through the door of the undressing room into the corridor, then from there through a door on the right into the gas chamber. A second stairway running from the grounds of the crematorium gave access to the corridor. To the left of this stairway, in the corner, there was a little room where hair, spectacles and other effects were stored. On the right there was another small room used as a store for cans of Zyclon-B. In the right corner of the corridor, on the wall facing the door from the undressing room, there was a lift to transport the corpses. People went from the crematorium yard to the undressing room via a stairway, surrounded by iron rails. Over the door there was a sign with the inscription “Zum Baden und Desinfektion” (to bath and disinfection), written in several languages. In the undressing room, there were wooden benches and numbered clothes hooks along the walls. There were no windows and the lights were on all the time. The undressing room also had water taps and drains for the waste water. From the undressing room people went into the corridor through a door above which was hung a sign marked “Zum Bade“, repeated in several languages. I remember the [Russian] word “banya” was there too. From the corridor they went through the door on the right into the gas chamber. It was a wooden door, made of two layers of short pieces of wood arranged like parquet. Between these layers there was a single sheet of material sealing the edges of the door and the rabbets of the frame were also fitted with sealing strips of felt. At about head height for an average man this door had a round glass peephole. On the other side of the door, i.e. on the gas chamber side, this opening was protected by a hemispherical grid. This grid was fitted because the people in the gas chamber, feeling they were going to die, used to break the glass of the peep-hole. But the grid still did not provide sufficient protection and similar incidents recurred. The opening was blocked with a piece of metal or wood. The people going to be gassed and those in the gas chamber damaged the electrical installations, tearing the cables out and damaging the ventilation equipment. The door was closed hermetically from the corridor side by means of iron bars which were screwed tight. The roof of the gas chamber was supported by concrete pillars running down the middle of its length. On either side of these pillars there were four others, two on each side. The sides of these pillars, which went up through the roof, were of heavy wire mesh. Inside this grid, there was another finer mesh and inside that a third of very fine mesh. Inside this last mesh cage there was a removable can that was pulled out with a wire to recover the pellets from which the gas had evaporated.

    Besides that, in the gas chamber there were electric wires running along the two sides of the main beam supported by the central concrete pillars. The ventilation was installed in the walls of the gas chamber. Communication between the room and the ventilation installation proper was through small holes along the top and bottom of the side walls. The lower openings were protected by a kind of muzzle, the upper ones by whitewashed perforated metal plates.

    The ventilation system of the gas chamber was coupled to the ventilation ducts installed in the undressing room. This ventilation system, which also served the dissection room, was driven by electric motors in the roof space of the crematorium.

    The water tap was in the corridor and a rubber hose was run from it to wash the floor of the gas chamber. At the end of 1943, the gas chamber was divided in two by a brick wall to make it possible to gas smaller transports. In the dividing wall there was a door identical to that between the corridor and the original gas chamber. Small transports were gassed in the chamber furthest from the entrance from the corridor.289

    The undressing room and the gas chamber were covered first with a concrete slab then with a layer of soil sown with grass. There were four small chimneys, the openings through which the gas was thrown in, that rose above the gas chamber. These openings were closed by concrete covers with two handles.

    Over the undressing room, the ground was higher than the level of the yard and perfectly flat. The ventilation ducts led to the pipes and the chimneys located in the part of the building above the corridor and undressing room. I would point out that at first the undressing room had neither benches nor clothes hooks and there were no showers in the gas chamber. These fittings were not installed until autumn 1943 in order to camouflage the undressing room and gas chamber as a bathing and disinfestation facility. The showers were fitted to small blocks of wood sealed into the concrete roof of the gas chamber. There were no pipes connected to these showers, from which no water ever flowed.

    As I have already said, there was a lift in the corridor or rather a goods hoist. A temporary hoist was installed pending delivery of the electric lift to carry the corpses to the ground floor.290

    It is important to note that Tauber’s description of the basement level of crematorium 2 is fully corroborated by the surviving blueprints of the crematorium. These will be discussed in greater detail in Part Three of this report.

    Tauber also gave a detailed description of the ground floor–an account that is likewise confirmed by the architectural drawings. The lift, he told Sehn, had two exits at this level. One led to the autopsy rooms, the other into the large furnace hall with its five triple-muffle ovens. “It was possible to put five human corpses in each muffle, which was closed by an iron door bearing the inscription ‘Topf.’ Beneath each muffle, there was a space for a bin to collect the ashes, also closed by an iron door made by the same firm.” Behind the furnaces were the pits with the fire boxes and the coke storage. To the back of the incineration hall were rooms reserved for the SS, the chief capo, and the doctor. “A stairway led up to the roof space, where there was a dormitory for the men working in the Sonderkommando and, at the end, the electric motors for the lift and the ventilation system.”

    Facing the entrance gate to the crematorium grounds, in the centre of the building, was a wing in which rubbish was burnt in an incinerator. It was called “Müllverbrennung.” It was separate, reached by going down a stairway. It was surrounded by an iron platform and was coal fired. The entrance to the waste incinerator wing faced the crematorium access gate. This wing had, in addition to its entrance door with a transom window over it, two windows, one on the right and one on the left of the entrance. In the left corner of the entrance, there was an opening through which, from a walled-off area on the outside, the objects to be burned were passed inside. The incineration hearth for these things was to the left of the entrance and the firebox on the right. I would point out that it was in this particular furnace that the documents of the Political Section of the camp were always burned. From time to time, the SS would bring whole truckloads of papers, documents and files that had to be burned under their control. During the incineration of these papers, I noticed great stacks of records of dead people and death notices. We were not able to take any of these documents because we were operating under the close and direct surveillance of the SS. Behind the waste incinerator, at the end of the wing, was a chimney for all the cremation furnaces and the incinerator. At first, there were around this chimney three electric motors used for the draught. Because of the heat given off and the proximity of the incinerator, these motors often broke down. There was even a fire on one occasion. Because of these problems, they were later removed and the smoke flues of the cremation furnaces were connected directly to the chimney. A door allowed passage between the waste incinerator wing and the part where the chimney was. This part being slightly higher, it was reached by a few steps. After the motors were removed, some wash basins for the Sonderkommando were installed next to the chimney….In the roof space above the waste incinerator wing, the hair cut from the victims was dried, tossed and put in sackswhich were subsequently taken away by truck.291

    Tauber continued with a very detailed account of the incineration procedure

    As I have already said, there were five furnaces in crematorium 2,each with three muffles for cremating the corpses and heated by two coke-fired hearths. The fire flues of these hearths came out above the ash boxes of the two side muffles. Thus the flames went first round the two side muffles then heated the centre one, from where the combustion gases were led out below the furnace, between the two firing hearths. Thanks to this arrangement, the incineration process for the corpses in the side muffles differed from that of the centre muffle. The corpses of “Müselmanns” or of wasted people with no fat burned rapidly in the side muffles and slowly in the centre one. Conversely, the corpses of people gassed directly on arrival, not being wasted, burned better in the centre muffle. During the incineration of such corpses, we used the coke only to light the fire of the furnace initially, for fatty corpses burned of their own accord thanks to the combustion of the body fat. On occasion, when coke was in short supply, we would put some straw and wood in the ash bins under the muffles, and once the fat of the corpse began to burn the other corpses would catch light themselves. There were no iron components inside the muffle. The bars were of chamotte,292 for iron would have melted in the furnace, which reached 1,000 to 1,200° Celsius. These chamotte bars were arranged crosswise. The dimensions of the door and the opening of the muffles were smaller than the inside of the muffle itself, which was 2 meters long, 80 centimeters wide and about 1 meter high. Generally speaking, we burned 4 or 5 corpses at a time in one muffle, but sometimes we charged a greater number of corpses. It was possible to charge up to 8 “Müselmanns.” Such big charges were incinerated without the knowledge of the head of the crematorium during air raid warnings in order to attract the attention of airmen by having a bigger fire emerging from the chimney. We imagined that in that way it might be possible to change our fate. The iron components, in particular fire bars, still to be found in the camp, were from the fireboxes. Crematorium 2 had fire bars of heavy angle iron. Crematoria 4 and 5 were fitted with fire bars in the form of a lance, or rather were like swords with handles.293

    After the description of the installation, Tauber recalled how on the first day, 4 March, they operated the ovens in the presence of observers from the Political Section, representatives of the Berlin headquarters, and engineers of Topf. For this occasion, the Political department had taken care to provide 45 bodies of well-fed victims recently killed in Bunker 2.

    Via the lift and the door leading to the furnace room, we took out the bodies and placed them two or three at a time on trolleys of the type I described for crematorium 1 and charged them into the different muffles. As soon as all the muffles of the five furnaces had been charged, the members of the commission began to observe the operation, watch in hand. They opened the muffle doors, looked at their watches, expressed surprise at the slowness of the cremation process. In view of the fact that the furnaces were not yet hot enough, even though we had been firing them since the morning, and because they were brand new, the incineration of this charge took about 40 minutes.294

    Tauber went on to explain that later on incineration became more efficient, and they could incinerate two loads per hour. In fact, the Sonderkommando tried to overload the muffles, because this would allow them some free time.

    According to the regulations, we were supposed to charge the muffles every half hour. Ober Capo August explained to us that, according to the calculations and plans for this crematorium, 5 to 7 minutes was allowed to burn one corpse in a muffle. In principle, he did not let us put more than three corpses in one muffle. Because with that quantity we were obliged to work without interruption, for as soon as the last muffle was charged, the contents of the first had been consumed. In order to be able to take a pause during the work, we would charge 4 or 5 corpses in each muffle. The incineration of such a charge took longer, and after charging the last muffle, we had few minutes’ break until the first one was again available. We took advantage of this free time to wash the floor of the furnace room, as a result of which the air became a little cooler.295

    After this first incineration, the Sonderkommando kept the fires burning, but there were no corpses to burn.

    About mid-March 1943, one evening after work, Hauptscharführer Hirsch, in charge of the Krematorien at that time, came and ordered us to stay in the crematorium because there was some work for us. At nightfall, trucks arrived carrying people of both sexes and all ages. Among them there were old men, women, and many children. The trucks ran back and forth for an hour between the station and the camp, bringing more and more people. As soon as the trucks began to arrive, we, the Sonderkommando, were shut up in a room located at the back where, as I said in my description of the crematorium, the doctors who carried out the autopsies were to be housed. From this room, we could hear the people emerging from the trucks weeping and shouting. They were herded towards a hut erected perpendicular to the crematorium building, towards the entrance gate of crematorium II. The people entered through the door facing the gate and went down by the stairway to the right of the waste incinerator wing. At that time, this hut served as an undressing room. It was used for this purpose only for a week or so, then it was dismantled. After this hut was removed, the people were herded towards the basement area of the crematorium via a stairway leading to the underground undressing room, already described. After we had waited for two hours, we were let out and ordered to go to the gas chamber. We found heaps of naked bodies, doubled up. They were pinkish, and in places red. Some were covered with greenish marks and saliva ran from their mouths. Others were bleeding from the nose. There was excrement on many of them. I remember that a great number had their eyes open and were hanging on to one another. The bodies were most crushed together round the door. By contrast, there were less around the wire mesh columns. The location of the bodies indicated that the people had tried to get away from the columns and get to the door. It was very hot in the gas chamber and so suffocating as to be unbearable. Later on, we became convinced that many people died of suffocation, due to lack of air, just before the gassing. They fell to the floor and were trampled on by the others. They were not sitting, like the majority, but stretched out on the floor, under the others. It was obvious that they had succumbed first and that they had been trampled on. Once the people were in the gas chamber, the door was closed and the air was pumped out. The gas chamber ventilation could work in this way, thanks to a system that could both extract and blow.296

    Tauber recorded that the Sonderkommandos wore gas masks when removing the bodies to the corridor, where a barber cut off the women’s hair before the corpses were loaded on the lift for transport to the ground floor. There two dentists pulled out the gold fillings and false teeth.

    They also removed the rings and earrings. The teeth were thrown into a box marked “Zahnarztstation.” As for the jewels, they were put into another box with no label other than a number. The dentists, recruited from among the prisoners, looked into all the mouths except those of the children. When the jaws were too tightly clamped, they pulled them apart with the pincers used to extract the teeth. The SS carefully checked the work of the dentists, always being present. From time to time they would stop a load of corpses ready for charging into the furnace and already operated on by the dentists, in order to check the mouths. They occasionally found a forgotten gold tooth. Such carelessness was considered to be sabotage, and the culprit was burned alive in the furnace. I witnessed such a thing myself. A dentist, a French Jew, was burned in this way in crematorium 5. He fought and cried, but there were several SS and they threw themselves on him, overpowered him and put him in the furnace alive.297

    Tauber also witnessed other forms of punishments. One particularly horrifying incident occurred in August 1944 in crematorium 5.

    When the shifts were changing over, they had found a gold watch and wedding ring on one of the labourers, a man Wolbrom called Lejb. This Jew, aged about twenty, was dark and had a number of one hundred thousand and something. All the Sonderkommando working in the crematorium were assembled, and before their eyes he was hung, with his hands tied behind his back, from an iron bar above the firing hearths. He remained in this position for about one hour, then after untying his hands and feet,they threw him in a cold crematorium furnace. Gasoline was poured into the lower ash bin [that of the firebox at the back of the furnace] and lit. The flames reached the muffle where this Lejb was imprisoned. A few minutes later, they opened the door and the condemned man emerged and ran off, covered in burns. He was ordered to run round the yard shouting that he was a thief. Finally, he had to climb the barbed wire, which was not electrified during the day, and when he was at the top, the head of the crematoriums Moll, first name Otto, killed him with a shot. Another time, the SS chased a prisoner who was not working fast enough into a pit near the crematorium that was full of boiling human fat. At that time, the corpses were incinerated in open air pits, from which the fat flowed in to a separate reservoir, dug in the ground. This fat was poured over the corpses to accelerate their combustion. This poor devil was pulled out of the fat still alive and then shot.298

    Tauber worked in crematorium 2 until mid-April, incinerating the remains of Greek, French and Dutch convoys. “I cannot say how many people were gassed during this period. We worked in two shifts, a day shift and a night shift. On average, we incinerated 2500 corpses a day.”299

    Tauber was a careful witness, clearly distinguishing between what he had seen himself, and what not. At this time he did not witness how the people were herded into the undressing room and from there into the gas chamber because, when they arrived at the crematorium, all but two of the Sonderkommando were locked up in the coke storage room–the remaining two were in the furnace room keeping the fires going. Finally he was detailed to that job, and this allowed him to witness the outside of the gassing procedure.

    Through the window of the incineration room, I observed how the Zyklon was poured into the gas chamber. Each transport was followed by a vehicle with Red Cross markings which entered the yard of the crematorium, carrying the camp doctor, Mengele, accompanied by Rottenführer Scheimetz. They took the cans of Zyklon from the car and put them beside the small chimneys used to introduce the Zyklon into the gas chamber. There, Scheimetz opened them with a special cold chisel and a hammer, then poured the contents into the gas chamber. Then he closed the orifice with a concrete cover. As there were four similar chimneys. Scheimetz poured into each the contents of one of the smallest cans of Zyklon, which had yellow labels pasted right round them. Before opening the cans, Scheimetz put on a gasmask which he wore while opening the cans and pouring in the product. There were also other SS who performed this operation, but I have forgotten their names. They were specially designated for it and belonged to the “Gesundheitswesen.” A camp doctor was present at each gassing. If I have mentioned Mengele, that is because I met him very often during my work. In addition to him, there were other doctors present during the gassings, like König, Thilo and a young, tall, slight doctor whose name I do not recall.300

    Unlike the practice of crematorium 1, the Sonderkommandos operating crematorium 2 soon abandoned using the trolleys for transporting and inserting the corpses into the muffles. They were replaced by metal stretchers. They were loaded according to procedure.

    The procedure was to put the first corpse with the feet towards the muffle, back down and face up. Then, a second corpse was placed on top, again face up, but head towards the muffle. This method was used so that the legs of the upper corpse blocked that below and did not get in the way when the corpses were introduced into the furnace. Two prisoners loaded the stretchers. One end of the stretcher was put in front of the muffle, below the bar, alongside which stood two prisoners. While the corpses were being loaded on the stretcher, one of these opened the door of the muffle and the other positioned the rollers. Then, they lifted the stretcher and put it on the rollers, while a fifth prisoner, positioned at the handles at the other end of the stretcher, lifted it at the same time as them and pushed it into the muffle. As soon as the corpses were inside, a sixth prisoner held them there with a fire iron while the fifth withdrew the stretcher. The sixth man also had to cool the stretcher as it came out of the furnace by pouring over it water in which soap had been dissolved so that the next load of corpses would slide easily on the metal of the stretcher without sticking to it. The same procedure was used for the following charge destined to be incinerated in the same muffle. We had to work fast, for the corpses put in first soon started to burn, and their arms and legs rose up. If we were slow, it was difficult to charge the second pair of corpses. During the introduction of these other two corpses, I was able to observe the cremation process. It appeared that the trunk of the body rose and the arms stretched towards the sky before contracting. The same thing happened with the legs. The bodies became covered in blisters. Gassed bodies that had remained in the store room for two days were swollen, and in the fire their diaphragm burst and their intestines poured out. I was also able to observe how cremation proceeded while I was moving the corpses in the furnace with a fire iron, to accelerate the combustion. After each charging, the SS head of the Kommando checked to make sure that the furnaces were properly filled. We had to open each muffle for him and at that moment we could see what was happening inside. We burned the bodies of children with those of adults. First we put in two adults, then as many children as the muffle could contain. It was sometimes as many as five or six. We used this procedure so that the bodies of children would not be placed directly on the grid bars, which were relatively far apart. In this way we prevented the children from falling through into the ash bin. Women’s bodies burned much better and more quickly than those of men. For this reason, when a charge was burning badly, we would introduce a woman’s body to accelerate the combustion.301

    Tauber remembered that the ovens needed little cokes when in use for some time. “The furnaces burned thanks to the embers produced by the combustion of the corpses.”

    So, during the incineration of fat bodies, the fires were generally extinguished. When this type of body was charged into a hot furnace, fat immediately began to flow into the ash bin, where it caught fire and started the combustion of the body. When “Müselmanner” were being cremated, it was necessary to constantly refuel the fireboxes. The shift boss wrote in a notebook the number of corpses incinerated per charge and the head of the Kommando, an SS man, checked these entries. After an entire transport had been cremated, he took away the notebook.302

    Tauber continued his testimony with detailed reports on the various personalities that operated the crematoria.

    In April 1943, he was transferred to the newly completed crematorium 4. It was of a different design. Instead of having five triple-muffle ovens, this crematorium had one double-four-muffle furnace.303 Like in the case of crematorium 2, Tauber’s description of crematorium 4 is fully corroborated by a surviving blueprint.

    The muffles were in pairs on each side. One firebox heated two muffles, which together made up half of a furnace. Each furnace had its own chimney. the undressing room and the gas chambers were installed on the ground floor, and the part of the building where they were located was not so high as the furnace room so that it had the appearance of an annex to the crematorium. The boiler room was separated from the undressing room by a narrow corridor with four internal doors, allowing passage between the two rooms. The undressing room was illuminated by four small barred windows giving on the exterior. Another door led to a corridor whose entrance door opened onto the yard of the Krematorium. This entrance was flanked by two windows.

    Opposite the entrance door in the corridor, there was a door that opened on a room with a window which was the kitchen for the SS working in the crematorium, a kitchen where the dishes were prepared by members of the Sonderkommando. This room was next to that of the Sonderkommando prisoners….The third door in the corridor led to a corridor with a barred window and a door leading to the crematorium yard.

    From this corridor, the door on the right gave access to the first of the gaschambers and that opposite to the smallest of the chambers, communicating by another door with the biggest.

    This corridor, and the three following rooms were used as chambers for gassing people. All had gas-tight doors, and also windows that had bars on the inside and were closed by gas-tight shutters on the outside. These small windows, which could be reached by the hand of a man standing outside, were used for throwing the contents of cans of Zyklon-B into the gas chambers full of people. The gas chambers were about two meters high and had an electric lighting installation on the walls but they had no ventilation system, which obliged the Sonderkommando who were removing the bodies to wear gasmasks. The corpses were dragged along the floor into the access corridor, where the barbers cut of the hair and then into the undressing room, which also served, in this kind of crematorium, as a store room for the corpses. It was a big hall where the bodies were put while the gas chambers were being cleaned up. Then they were taken through the narrow corridor between the undressing room and the furnace room, where at each end a dentist tore out the gold teeth. In the furnace room, there was the room of the head of the Kommando and beside it another one for the rest of the SS.

    This was followed by a narrow corridor, which originally led to the east yard of crematorium 4, the SS washroom and WC and the coke store. The building was entirely brick-built, with a wooden roof, covered with asbestos sheets and roofing felt. The yards of all the crematoriums were separated from the outside world by a thick enclosure of wicker and a hedge to which straw hurdles were attached.

    In the yard, there were watchtowers, where SS armed with machine guns kept guard. Furthermore, the whole area was surrounded by electrified barbed wire and the yards were lit by powerful lamps. In May 1944, the SS ordered us to dig five pits in the yard of crematorium 5, between the building itself and the drainage ditch, five pits which were used later for incinerating the corpses of gassed people from the Hungarian transports. Although a track for the trolleys was laid between the building and the pits, we never used it because the SS considered it to be inconvenient, so we had to drag the corpses straight from the gas chambers to the pits. At the same time, the old Bunker 2, with its incineration pits, was also made ready for re-use. I never worked there. It was realized that the pits burned the corpses better, so the crematoria closed down one after the other after the pits came into operation. The first to be stopped was crematorium 4, apparently in June 1944,then,in October 1944, I think, Krematorien 2 and 3. Crematorium 5 kept going until the Germans fled. Towards the end, it was used to incinerate the bodies of prisoners who died naturally or were executed. Gassing ceased in October 1944.304

    Tauber recalled how after the gassing ceased the Germans began to dismantle the equipment. “The parts were taken to the goods platform and loaded onto trains.”305

    Tauber’s testimony is, without doubt, the most important record of the extermination procedure taken immediately after the war. It is largely corroborated by the contemporary testimonies of Jankowski and Dragon, and by the later memoirs of Filip Müller.306 It is in almost all its details corroborated by the surviving blueprints of crematoria 1, 2 and 4. The only piece for which there is no corroboration in the archives are the metal columns in the gas chamber of crematorium 2. Attached to the four structural concrete columns, which carried the roof, these columns allowed for the introduction of the Zyklon. They were retro-actively fitted into the space, but do not appear on the blueprints which, with one exception, were all drawn before the decision was made to use Leichenkeller 1 as a gas chamber. Yet their existence is independently confirmed in eye-witness accounts of the gas chamber, the drawings made by David Olère (see below), and the following testimony of Michael Kula, who manufactured these columns.

    On 11 June Sehn interviewed the 32-year old former inmate Michael Kula. The Roman Catholic Kula, a mechanic by training and before his incarceration in Auschwitz a resident of the neighbouring town of Trzebinia, had been brought to the camp on 15 August 1940. In his testimony he gave an account how, exactly at the even of the first anniversary of his arrival, the Germans had initiated experiments to gas 250 inmates with Zyklon B in the basement of Block 11. He had been able to witness some of it, because he had the afternoon off on the 15th of August, in honour of the Feast of Assumption. The killing had taken two days, and only on the night of the 16th did the nurses of the lazaret retrieve the corpses to take them out of the camp. Kula had been able to witness this from a window of the dental station in Block 21. Right in front of Kula’s observation point a cart loaded with corpses broke down, and many fell on the ground. “I saw then that they were greenish. The nurses told me that the corpses were cracked, and the skin came off. In many cases they had bitten fingers and necks.”307

    Kula worked in the metal workshop of the camp, and had forged many of the metal pieces for the crematoria. For crematorium I, for example, he and his colleagues had made the trucks for inserting the corpses into the ovens, the tracks, and the iron framework that braced the brickwork of the ovens. Furthermore they had made “the supporting framework for the fire boxes and the ventilation pipes from the gas chamber. In addition to that we did small repairs in that room.”308 Kula gave a detailed account of the work done for the crematoria in Birkenau. This included the iron braces for all the ovens. all scaffolds, the tools for retrieving the corpses, the metalwork of the doors, as well as the hooks, shovels and all that was necessary to run the ovens and the pit incinerations. His most important testimony concerned the construction of the sfour wire-mesh columns in the large gaschambers of crematoria 2 and 3. As we have seen, Tauber had described them as three structures of ever finer mesh. Within the innermost column there was a removable can to pull after the gassing the Zyklon “crystals,” that is the porous silica pellets that had absorbed the hydrocyanide. Kula, who had made these columns, provided some technical specifications.

    Among other things the metal workshop made the false showers intended for the gas chambers, as well as the wire-mesh columns for the introduction of the contents of the tins with Zyklon into the gas chambers. These columns were around 3 meters high, and they were 70 centimetres square in plan. Such a column consisted of 6 wire screens which were built the one within the other. The inner screen was made from 3 millimeter thick wire, fastened to iron corner posts of 50 by 10 millimeters. Such iron corner posts were on each corner of the column and connected on the top in the same manner. The openings of the wire mesh were 45 millimeters square. The second screen was made in the same manner, and constructed within the column at 150 millimeters distance from the first. The openings of the second were around 25 millimeters square. In the corners these screens were connected to each other by iron posts. The third part of this column could be moved. It was an empty column with a square footprint of around 150 millimeters made of sheet zinc. At the top it was closed by a metal sheet, and at the bottom with a square base. At a distance of 25 millimetres from the sides of this columns were soldered tin corners supported by tin brackets. On these corners were mounted a thin mesh with openings of about one millimeter square. This mesh ended at the bottom of the column and from here ran in the [Verlaenderung] of the screen a tin frame until the top of the column. The contents of a Zyklon tin were thrown from the top on the distributor, which allowed for a equal distribution of the Zyklon to all four sides of the column. After the evaporation of the gas the whole middle column was taken out. The ventilation system of the gas chamber was installed in the side walls of the gas chambers. The ventilation openings were hidden by zinc covers, provided with round openings.309

    The wire mesh columns had been totally dismantled after the cessation of gassings and before the demolition of the crematoria, and no remains were found. Yet the dismantling crews had not been able to remove the ventilation system as they were a structural part of the walls, and consequently had overlooked to remove the zinc covers mentioned by Kula. They were dislocated when the demolition squads dynamited the gas chambers, but six of them were retrieved in the rubble of crematorium II and sent for analysis in the forensic laboratory in Cracow. The laboratory report noted that these were covered with a thin, white-coloured and strongly smelling deposit. The laboratory retrieved 7.2 grams of the deposit and dissolved it in water. Sulphuric acid was added to this solution, and the resulting gas was absorbed in an absorbent material. This was divided in two and subjected to two different tests, each of which revealed the presence of hydrocyanide.310

    Sehn and Dawidowski did not only study the remains of the bunkers and the crematoria, interview witnesses and send material for chemical analysis. They also studied the plans for the crematoria. These plans were part of the archive of the Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei, Auschwitz O/S (Central Building Authority of the Waffen-SS and the Police, Auschwitz in Upper Silesia), located in a compound of barracks at some distance from the main camp. When the Germans burned the archives of the camp Kommandantur prior to their evacuation from Auschwitz in January 1945, they overlooked the archive of the building office that had been closed some months earlier, and as a result they were found more or less intact. The Soviet commission had paid scant attention to the massive amount of paperwork. It was up to the Poles to fully exploit the evidentiary value of this source.311

    Building at the concentration camp had been subject to normal civilian procedures as well as to the wartime superstructure of special permissions, and as a result multiple copies of many documents survive with the comments and signatures of the individual bureaucrats or businessmen to whom they were sent. The result was that Sehn and Dawidowski found a wide paper trail that included tens of thousands of different items such as plans, budgets, letters, telegrams, contractors’ bids, financial negotiations, work site labour reports, requests for material allocations, and the minutes of meetings held in the Building Office among the architects themselves, with camp officials, and with high-ranking dignitaries from Berlin.

    Comparing the results of the site visits with the blueprints and the other documentation that had been recovered, Roman Dawidowski wrote a (roughly) 10,000 word-long expert report on the technology of mass extermination in Auschwitz.312 Dawidowski’s text was never published as a whole, but Sehn was to summarize its most important conclusions in the official account of the operation of the camp published by the Central Commission in 1946. The relative obscurity of the Dawidowski report is troublesome, as it erroneously suggests that the Poles did not do their homework in the post-war years. To be sure: today we know more about the construction of Auschwitz and the crematoria than Dawidowski. Yet, given the short time available to him and the general chaos in post-war Poland, it is still quite remarkable that most of his observations and conclusions have been confirmed over time.

    Study of the archives quickly revealed that the creation of the crematoria and the gas chambers had been less straightforward than the language used by the Soviet experts and the journalists suggested: the development of Auschwitz as a “factory of death” had followed a twisted course. Correspondence suggested, for example, that the Germans had an important change of mind in early 1942. Originally, they had planned to construct a large crematorium with five triple ovens in Auschwitz, and two small crematoria with two triple-muffle ovens in Birkenau. At the end of February the chief of construction in the SS, Hans Kammler, decided in consultation with the Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung to erect the large crematorium with the five triple incinerators in Birkenau. Dawidowski did not know the exact circumstances for this change in plan, but correctly inferred that it had to do with the adaptation of Birkenau into an extermination camp.313

    In studying the blueprints and the correspondence, Dawidowski discovered that the role of the crematoria in the Final Solution was veiled in innocuous-sounding code words. Whenever they were designated as extermination installations, the crematoria were referred to as Spezialeinrichtungen (special installations) for the Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) of inmates. The latter term referred to killing.314 Dawidowski also found that the architects only once made a direct reference to the underground gas chambers of crematoria 2 and 3 as Vergasungskeller (gassing cellar) and only once to the adjacent space as Auskleideraum (undressing room). In general they designated the gas chamber of crematoria 2 and 3 as Leichenhalle (morgue), Halle (hall), Leichenkeller 1, L-Keller 1, Keller 1 while the undressing room was Leichenkeller 2 or simply Keller 2. Given all the other evidence he had found, Dawidowski was not particularly fascinated by the document with the reference to the Vergasungskeller, and he did not find it necessary to quote it. Yet more recently negationists have argued that this document is the “only” evidence for the genocidal use of the crematoria, and have spent considerable effort to challenge the common sense interpretation that the word Vergasungskeller refers to a homicidal gas chamber. Therefore it is good to print the letter in full.

    29 January 1943 To the Chief Amtsgruppe C, SS-Brigadeführer and General-Major of the
    Waffen-SS, Dr. Ing. Kammler. Subject: Crematorium II, condition of the building.

    crematorium has been completed–save for minor constructional work–by the use of all the forces available, in spite of unspeakable difficulties, the severe cold, and in 24 hour shifts. The fires were started in the ovens in the presence of Senior Engineer Prüfer, representative of the contractors of the firm of Topf and Sons, Erfurt, and they are working most satisfactorily. The planks from the concrete ceiling of the cellar used as a mortuary could not yet be removed on account of the frost. This is, however, not very important, as the gassing cellar (Vergasungskeller) can be used for that purpose.

    The firm of Topf and Sons was not able to start deliveries of the installation in time for aeration and ventilation as had been requested by the Central Building Management because of restrictions on use of railroad cars. As soon as the installation for aeration and ventilation arrive, the installing will start so that the complete installation may be expected to be ready for use 20 February 1943

    We enclose a report of the testing engineer of the firm Topf and Sons, Erfurt.

    The Chief of the Central
    Construction Management,
    Waffen-SS and Police Auschwitz,


    1 – SS Ustuf Janisch and Kirschneck
    1 – Filing office (file crematorium)

    Certified true copy:

    [signature ] SS–Ustuf (F)

    Cross-referencing this letter with blueprints of the basement of crematorium 2, Dawidowski concluded that the designation “Vergasungskeller” applied to morgue 1. He noted that the blueprints showed that the section of this morgue differed from that of morgue 2 in that the former was equipped with two built-in ventilation ducts on each side. Correspondence explained that these ventilation ducts were connected to a ventilator driven by 3.5 horsepower electric motor, and that the space was also equipped with a separate system for introducing warm air into it–an arrangement that made no sense if the space was used as a morgue (because corpses must be stored cold) but which made a lot of sense if the space was used as a Zyklon B gas chamber (because hydrogen cyanide, with a boiling point of around 27° Celsius, works much faster when used in a pre-heated space–an issue Dawidowski was to discuss at length later in his report).315 Both eyewitness testimonies, blueprints and correspondence corroborated each other.

    Not all of Dawidowski’s observations were equally valid. For example, he stressed the fact that the location of the crematoria was determined by the desire to achieve maximum camouflage, both to the outside world, and to the victims, who had to be fooled until the very end. In fact, the issue of camouflage only seems to have become of concern after the crematoria were completed, and does not seem to have determined their original location.316 Dawidowski also showed an unusual interest in an issue that seems rather arcane in hindsight: the fact that both the design and the operation procedures of the crematoria in Birkenau violated the German Law on Cremation promulgated on May 15,1934. Contrary to the stipulations of the law, which decreed that crematoria should be dignified in appearance, the Auschwitz crematoria had a factory-like appearance. More seriously than the question of aesthetics, the design of the Auschwitz incinerators violated the very important principle that only one corpse ought to be incinerated at a time, and that the ashes of the deceased ought to be identifiable and collected in an urn. The ovens designed by Topf did not heed the law: they had three (crematoria 2 and 3) or eight muffles (crematoria 4 and 5), and as up to five corpses could be incinerated in every muffle at the same time, iit was unavoidable that the ashes were to be mixed. Finally, Dawidowski complained that the SS did not obey the law in its demand that the wishes of the persons or their immediate family as to burial or cremation were to be honoured.” It is clear that the prisoners who had been given registration numbers, or the millions who were brought straight from the station to the gas chambers, were not asked before their murder if they wished that their corpses would be incinerated, or buried. And neither their family was asked, as this is stipulated by the German law (§2).”317 Dawidowski’s outrage about this issue seems oddly misplaced, yet it does remind us of the fact that, even in 1945, the reality of the camps were still largely unimaginable.

    On the basis of the documents Dawidowski reconstructed the development of the crematoria in its relation to the growth of the camp. The construction of crematorium 1 dated from 1940, and was equipped with two double muffle ovens. Dawidowski noted that the oven was initially heated by gasses created through the burning of coke. Once they had reached the ideal incineration temperature, the corpses were inserted. From that moment onwards the remains provided the most important fuel. He calculated that the original daily capacity of the crematorium was 200 corpses. After the addition of an third double-muffle oven in 1941 and the modification of the flues, the capacity rose to 350. This capacity was needed, as the mortality in the camp had risen at days up to 390 people per day. Causes of death were the general violence, starvation, exhaustion, and murder by means of phenol injections, and executions by rifle. According to Dawidowski, Zyklon B was first used as a killing agent in August 1941. Initially rooms in the basement of Block 11 were used as gas chambers. Later the SS adapted the morgue of the crematorium to that purpose.318

    When transports with Jews began to arrive in 1942, the gas chamber of the crematorium in Auschwitz proved inappropriate, and the SS transformed two buildings in Birkenau, the cottages of farmers Wiechuja and Harmata, into gas chambers. In his description of these extermination installations–bunkers 1 and 2–Dawidowski relied on Dragon’s testimony and the remains of the buildings, as he had not found any documents or blueprints describing the two buildings. In fact, none were ever found. It seems that the two cottages were transformed without much fuss.

    From a description of the bunkers Dawidowski went to a lengthy description of the chemical properties of Zyklon B, and the unusual form the agent had been shipped to Auschwitz. Violating three decrees, the Zyklon B used in Auschwitz had not been provided with a warning agent. As the hydrogen cyanide contained in the Zyklon grains evaporated more easily as the environment was warmer, Dawidowski noted that the gas chambers were either pre-heated with portable stoves or, in the case of crematoria 2 and 3, by warm air generated by the ovens. And he presented the results of the laboratory analysis on the presence of hydrogen cyanide in the six zinc covers found in crematorium 2 and the bags of hair.319

    Initially the SS buried the corpses of those killed in the bunkers in large mass graves. On the basis of the testimony of Kula, Dawidowski came to the conclusion that in 1942 these corpses had begun to smell terribly. In response the SS ordered the opening of the mass graves and the destruction of the remains with the help of flame throwers. (As we have seen before, the War Refugee Report described this episode in great detail). This, so he argued, had triggered the decision to equip the camp with virtual “death factories”: crematoria equipped with gas chambers and powerful incinerators.

    In this case negotiations were undertaken with the largest crematorium construction firm in Germany, J.A. Topf and Sons in Erfurt. This firm proposed projects and the SS headquarters in Berlin accepted them (letter of 3 .8.1942 No. 11450/Bi/Ha). The latter demanded the completion of the crematoria at the beginning of 1943 (letter of the Firm Topf of 22.12.1942 No.20420/42, as well as letter from Berlin of 18.12.1942 No.Geh./42/Er/Z). In the course of 1942 the Firm Topf began with the construction of two very large crematoria, designated in Birkenau with numbers 2 and 3. At the same time that firm transported to Auschwitz, to ensure a faster progress of construction, parts of crematoria ovens intended by the SS for Mogilev, and built in Birkenau two more, somewhat smaller crematoria, designated with the numbers 4 and 5. All this haste explains that the crematoria, built by the same firm, represented two different types, and well the type of the similar crematoria 2 and 3, and the second type of crematoria 4 and 5.320

    Later research, comparing the design and construction schedules of the various crematoria, was to show that the difference between the two types of crematoria derived from the fact that the type used in crematoria 2 and 3 was developed before the transformation of Auschwitz into an extermination camp, while crematoria 4 and 5 were designed from the very beginning to serve the Final Solution.321

    Dawidowski provided a detailed description of the technical equipment and interior arrangement of the crematoria, giving special attention to the killing installations, providing at every point cross references to the blueprints and the correspondence. Dawidowski noted that the plans for the basement of crematorium 2 provided for a room indicated as Goldarb.[eiters](Goldworkers)–the space where the dental gold removed from the dead was melted. With the two adjacent spaces, the undressing room designated as morgue 2 and the gas chamber designated as morgue 1, “these spaces formed a unit that was carefully planned with the sole aim for the mass extermination of people using poison gas.”322 The gas chambers of crematoria 4 and 5 had been above ground, and of various sizes.

    The report continued with a lengthy description of the killing procedures in the various crematoria, based on the testimonies of Dragon and Tauber. This was followed by Dawidowski’s calculations of the incineration capacity of the ovens. He assumed that each muffle could incinerate up to five corpses simultaneously, and that the average cremation duration was between 25 and 30 minutes. On the basis of these figures, he came to an hourly incineration rate of 175 corpses for crematoria 2 and 3, and a daily capacity of 2,500 persons for each crematorium–a reduction of 16 per cent from the figure estimated by the Soviet-Polish commission shortly after the liberation of the camp, but a figure that was a little over 60 per cent higher than the official capacity calculated by Topf of 1,440 corpses per day. Crematoria 4 and 5 had according to Dawidowski an incineration capacity of 1,500 corpses per day–a figure that was equal to the assumed capacity of the gas chambers, equal to the earlier Soviet estimate, and around double the official German figure of 768 corpses per day.323 During the Hungarian Action, however, actual incineration capacity exceeded, however, the total capacity of the crematoria of 8,000 corpses per day. Two incineration pits created in the spring of 1944 had a capacity of 5,000 corpses each, which brought the total incineration capacity at Birkenau to 18,000–a figure far below the (theoretically) maximum killing rate of 60,000 people in all the gas chambers.

    In his conclusion, Dawidowski summarized the results: crematoria 2,3,4 and 5 were purposefully designed and built as extermination installations following an industrialized system of mass production. “One finds a planned sequence of living and dead material from the entrance to the undressing room to the ovens,” and the factory also allowed for the production of “secondary products, such as dental gold.” A final development in German perversity was the attempt to use the heat generated in the ovens to warm water. Throughout the history of the camp, the SS was engaged with an “intensive, yes even feverish attempts to improve the gassing action, as also to make it more efficient and more economically. In this effort local initiatives were in competition with the headquarters in Berlin.”324

    Dawidowski’s report was not without flaws, but it did mean an enormous step forwards compared to the Soviet report. Studying the remains of the crematoria in relation to the testimonies of Dragon, Tauber and Kula, and cross referencing these to the documents in the archive of the Central Building Office, the report put the history of the extermination installations at Auschwitz on a solid historical basis. If we may today quarrel with some of Dawidowski’s conclusions as to the capacity of the crematoria or the motivations for the design changes between various crematoria types, we must also acknowledge that subsequent discoveries or the confessions of Kommandant Höss, made after Dawidowski had done his work, largely corroborated the Dawidowski report.325

    The Central Commission accepted Dawidowski’s conclusions, and integrated them in the first report on the history of the camp, written by Jan Sehn and published in 1946. For better and for worse, Sehn’s history became the foundation of all subsequent histories of Auschwitz. “For better,” because in what it describes, the text is both responsible and accurate. “For worse,” because Sehn emplotted the history in such a manner that he subtly suppressed the contingency of the camp’s history in order to stress an assumed universality of its impact. In other words, he gave an impetus to the formation of a myth.

    I use the word myth in the sense that Barthes gave to it in his essay “Myth Today.” Mythification, he argued, occurs when language empties a narrative of its historical contingency to fill it with an unchanging nature. “In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically: it abolishes the complexity of human acts, it gives them simplicity of essences.” The result is a “blissful clarity” in which there are no contradictions because statements of fact are interpreted as explanations; “things appear to mean something by themselves.”326

    The beginning of Sehn’s narrative stresses the fact of Auschwitz’s isolation from the rest of the world. “The small, provincial Polish town of Oswiecim is situated far from the main railway centres and the more important lines of communication,” Sehn claimed. It set the tone for a theme that was to continue all through the text: the Germans chose Oswiecim as a location for an extermination camp because the site offered isolation and camouflage. Yet, even more important, the site was unhealthy.

    It is sufficient to look at a topographical map (Fig.2) to see that the place where Oswiecim is situated and the centre of the camp is like the bottom of a flat basin with no regular slope for draining away water. It is encircled by a series of fishponds, which permeate the whole land with damp, mist, and mud.

    The earth at the bottom of the basin is impervious to water owing to its geological structure,(Fig.3) consisting of a 60 to 80 metres thick layer of marl, at the bottom of the basin. The surface consisting of sand and pebbles is always muddy, due to its underlying substances. Besides, the quality of this stagnant water is very bad due to the rotting of organic substances which poison the air. It could be improved only by installing very expensive purifying works. For all these reasons Oswiecim and its surrounding [s] are not only damp but also abound with malaria and other diseases, which endanger man’s life.327

    The geological conditions of the site where the Germans chose to erect a concentration camp resembled that of the “unlimited, quaggy and damp moorland, dim with fog,” at Dachau. This proved, Sehn argued,” that the choice of Oswiecim for a place of punishment was not accidental.”

    Dachau became the topographical model for the Nazi places of execution. Such places as Dachau and Oswiecim, in the opinion of Prof. Romer, were avoided by life for thousands of years, as death kept watch there. The German authorities used the climate and geographical character of Oswiecim with premeditation in their criminal design.328

    Thus the town of Oswiecim was somehow cursed to host a German death camp, and the SS consciously acted to realize that destiny. Sehn saw therefore a direct causal link between geography, geology, and the creation of Birkenau, which he described in the following chapter entitled “‘Sonderbehandlung’ and ‘sonderaktion.'”

    To understand the proper character of the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, attention must be drawn to the following facts:

    In the autumn of 1941 on the moor of Brzezinka (Birkenau) 3 km. Away from the base camp, the construction of a special camp was proposed, ostensibly for prisoners of war (kriegsgefangenenlager–Official abbreviation K.G.L.) According to that the original plan of the Berlin Centre it was calculated to contain 200,000 prisoners (order of construction of Nov.1.And Dec.16.1941–Assignment of credits and allotment of funds Jan 9th 1942).329

    Sehn had no doubt that the original designation of Birkenau as a prisoner of war camp was mere camouflage to hide a more sinister purpose. One of the clues which led him to this conclusion was the fact that the building office created to design and oversee the construction of the camp was called Sonderbauleitung which was rather ominous as correspondence clearly stated that the camp was meant for the Durchführung der Sonderbehandlung (“to carry out special treatment.”)–a purpose that was realized when the trains that started arriving were designated as Sondertransporte (“Special Transports”) and when their passengers were led to a Badeanstalt für Sonderaktion (Bathing Establishment for Special Action). Sehn emphasized that all these terms that began with the adjective sonder(special) “were concealing the mass murder of millions of people, and that the special camp constructed for the carrying on of this Sonderbehandlung was already by assumption a huge extermination camp (Vernichtungslager).”

    According to this assumption it grew in practice into the largest extermination camp, not only in Poland, but also in the whole of Europe, in which only those were left alive among the prisoners who were indispensable to the munition factories and other industrial establishments working for the Army and for the war at Auschwitz and in the whole of Silesia.

    The highest authorities of the IIIrd Reich as well as those who carried out orders on the spot at Auschwitz were conscious of the purpose of the camp, and did everything to enable this camp to fulfil completely its mission of extermination of the conquered nations of Europe with the Slav nations and the Jews in first order of importance.

    The only buildings calculated for long-lasting and constant use were the four big crematoria with gas-chambers, and the barracks for the SS-men who staffed the camp. The rest of the settlements, and particularly the huts for the prisoners, were destined from the beginning for the short and transitory existence in them of a constantly changing tide of prisoners.330

    Let there be no confusion: Birkenau became the largest extermination center in Europe. But does this mean that it was meant to become that center? Sehn felt the need to introduce form the very beginning of his narrative a sense of foreboding: Oswiecim had been a place avoided by life for thousands of years, and the fact that the building office that constructed Birkenau was called a Sonderbauleitung seemed to point to the camp’s future use as a center of Sonderbehandlung. It is here, however, that Sehn’s inexperience as a writer and a professional historian caught up with him. He fell in a trap that Sartre described in his philosophical novel La Nausée (1938): in narrative, unlike in life, the beginning always announces the end.

    Nothing happens while you live. The scenery changes, people come in and go out, that’s all. There are no beginnings. Days are tacked on days without rhyme or reason, an interminable, monotonous addition…. That’s living. But everything changes when you tell about life; it’s a change no one notices: the proof is that people talk about true stories. As if there could possibly be true stories; things happen one way and we tell about them in the opposite sense. You seem to start at the beginning: “It was a fine autumn evening in 1922. I was a notary’s clerk in Marommes.” And in reality you have started at the end. It was there, invisible and present, it is the one which gives to words the pomp and value of a beginning. “I was out walking, I had left the town without realizing it, I was thinking about my money troubles.” This sentence, taken simply for what it is, means that the man was absorbed, morose, a hundred leagues from an adventure, exactly in the mood to let things happen without noticing them. But the end is there, transforming everything. For us, the man is already the hero of the story. His moroseness, his money troubles are much more precious than ours, they are all gilded by the light of future passions. And the story goes on in the reverse: instants have stopped piling themselves in a lighthearted way one on top of the other, they are snapped up by the end of the story which draws them and each one of them in turn, draws out the preceding instant: “It was night, the street was deserted.” The phrase is cast out negligently, it seems superfluous; but we do not let ourselves be caught and we put it aside: this is a piece of information whose value we shall subsequently appreciate. And we feel that the hero has lived all the details of this night like annunciations, promises, or even that he lived only those that were promises, blind and deaf to all that did not herald adventure. We forget that the future was not yet there; the man was walking in a night without forethought, a night which offered him a choice of dull rich prizes, and he did not make his choice.331

    A competent judge and experienced forensic researcher, Sehn was, at least in 1945-46, an amateur writer, and did not sufficiently realize that the ultimate transformation of Birkenau into an extermination camp was not a foregone conclusion when the camp was established as a prisoner of war camp. He did not negotiate the paradox that underlies every historical narrative and which Sartre and before him Robert Musil so brilliantly analyzed: that while in everyday life–even in Auschwitz–each moment unfolds with no certainty of outcome, “history” is based on a known conclusion that charges an otherwise tedious chronicle with portent and pregnancy. Yet, in criticizing Sehn, one must also remember that he wrote his account without the aid of the confessions of memoirs of Rudolf Höss, which only became available later in 1946 and 1947. Without any sources that provided a possibility to reconstruct the changing motivations of the SS in Auschwitz, the blueprints and correspondence of the Central Building Office could be plausibly interpreted as pointing to a unified development following an unchanging purpose –that is as long as one forgot the beginning of Dawidowski’s report that suggested a change of mind in the beginning of 1942, when Kammler decided to cancel two small incinerators in Birkenau, and build there a large crematorium originally planned for the main camp.

    Whatever its flaws in describing the origin and development of the camp, Sehn’s history of Auschwitz provided much useful information on the arrangement and administration of the camp, the housing conditions, the life and death of the prisoners, the medical experiments, the selections within the camp, and selections of Jews on arrival.

    The report ended with a discussion, largely based on Dawidowski’s forensic report, of the gas chambers, the crematoria, and the attempts to wipe out the traces of the crime. Sehn mentioned that after a first experimental gassings in Block 11, a gas chamber was created near crematorium 1, and after that, in the Fall of 1941, two peasants cottages in the Birkenau forest.

    In the summer of 1942 it was decided to extend enormously gassing operations and to improve them technically, entrusting the construction of huge crematoria to the firm of J.A. Topf and Sons at Erfurt (ms. of Aug.3,1942, No.11450/42/Bi/H). This was done just after SS. Reichsfürer Himmler’s visit of inspection. The construction began immediately, and in the early months of 1943 four huge modern crematoria were ready for the use of the camp authorities; their fundamental and essential part consisted of a set of gaschambers of a type unknown before. These crematoria were distinguished by the numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5. Crematoria 2 and 3 had underground areas, called on the construction drawing Nos. 932 and 933 of Jan. 28, Leichenkeller 1, and 2, both of which were intended for the gassing of human beings. Cellar 2 had an area of 400 sq. metres (480 sq. yards) and was 2.3 metres high. Cellar 1 had an area of 210 sq. metres and was 2.4 metres (7 ft.9 in.) high. In crematoria 4 and 5 chambers were built on the surface, each having an extent of 580 sq. metres (694 sq. yards), which were officially called Badeanstalt für Sonderaktion (“Baths for Special Action”) (Aktenvermerk of Aug 21,1942, No. 12115/42). From the specifications of the central building board of Feb.19,May 6,1943 and Apr.6,1943 it appears that both cellar No.1 in crematoria 2 and 3 and the Badenanstalten in crematoria 4 and 5 had gas-tight doors with grated observation windows of unbreakable 8 mm glass. The true purpose of all these rooms variously described is revealed by Bischoff’s letter of Jan. 29, 1943, to the Chief of the Official Group C. Kammler, 22250/43, in which he called them gas-chambers (Vergasungskeller). 332

    Sehn followed with a description of the gassing procedure.

    After undressing they were driven through a corridor to the actual gas chamber(Leichenkeller 1), which had previously been heated with the aid of portable coke braziers. This heating was necessary for the better evaporation of the hydrogen cyanide. By beating them with rods and setting dogs on them about 2000 victims were packed into a space of 210 sq. metres (250 sq. yds.)

    From the ceiling of this chamber, the better to deceive the victims, hung imitation shower-bays, from which water never poured. After the gas-tight doors had been [c]losed the air was pumped out and through four special openings in the ceiling the contents of cans of cyclon, producing cyanide hydrogen gas, were poured in.

    The contents of the cans fell down a cylindrical shaft constructed of four corner pieces covered with wire mesh-work of varying density. In the case of the surface gas-chambers in crematoria 4 and 5, the contents of the cans of cyclon were poured in through openings in the side-walls.333

    Both the cruel regime and the gas chambers produced many corpses. Initially they were buried in mass graves, but as the War Refugee Board report had already described, the mass graves created an ecological problem. Following Dawidowski’s assessment, Sehn argued that the ecological problems caused by the mass burials necessitated the construction of the four new crematoria.

    The first pair (2 and 3) had 5 furnaces of three retorts each, heated by two halfgenerator fires. Crematoria 4 and 5 were constructed at a distance of about 750 metres (820 yards) from the two previously mentioned, and had twin furnaces of 8 retorts each, heated by two fires on either side. Together, therefore, the four new crematoria had 46 retorts, each with a capacity of 3-5 corpses. The burning of one retort load lasted about half an hour, and as the cleaning of the fireplaces took about an hour per day, so all the four crematoria could burn about 12,000 corpses in 24 hours, which would give 4,380,000 a year.334

    It is unclear why Sehn chose to change Dawidowski’s assessment that the capacity of the four crematoria in Birkenau was 8,000 per day. Sehn’s calculations do not make sense: even if we assume a load of 5 corpses per muffle, and an incineration time of 30 minutes, and an operation period of 23 hours per day, we come to a capacity of “only” (46 x 5 x 2 x 23 =) 10,580 corpses per day.

    The report continued with how in the summer of 1944, during the Hungarian Action, even the crematoria could not cope, and how the practice of open-pit burning was reintroduced. It then went on to address the total number of victims.

    On the basis of calculations made by experts of the Investigation Technical Commission under the guidance of Prof. Dawidowski it was stated during the inquiry that the installations for disposing of corpses in pits and crematoria could have burnt more than 5 million bodies during the period in which they were active.

    As is well known, the Soviet Legal and Medicinal Commission, which arrived at Auschwitz immediately after the flight of the Germans, has stated that the number of prisoners murdered exceeded 4,000,000.335

    Finally Sehn dealt with the obliteration of the traces. The Germans did not only remove documents and killed prisoners who knew too much, but also destroyed the crematoria.

    As early as May, 1944, the old crematorium at Auschwitz was transformed into an air-raid shelter. Crematorium 4 was burnt on Oct.7, 1944, during a fire which broke out when the members of the Sonderkommando tried to avoid being gassed. The technical installations at crematoria 2 and 3 were dismantled in November, 1944, and part of them sent up to the camp at Gross Rosen, and the buildings were blown up. Crematorium 5 was burnt and its walls blown up in the night of Jan.20, 1945.336

    In conclusion, Sehn reiterated once more that Auschwitz was an extermination camp which “already at its foundation was designed by the Nazi authorities as a place of execution for millions of people.”337

    Using the findings of the Central Commission and cross-referencing these with their own experiences, the Czech former inmates Ota Kraus and Erick Schön/Kulka published in 1946 their Tovarna Na Smrt (Factory of Death).338 Both Kraus and Schön had been employed in Auschwitz as locksmiths, and as such they had been able to move throughout the camp. Their book was an in general careful and well-organized account of the operation of the camp, and the chapter entitled “Masinerie smrto” (“Machinery of Death”) calmly presented the terrible facts without recourse to histrionics.

    Kraus and Kulka located the beginning of mass destruction by gas in the spring of 1942 with the killing of 700 Slovak Jews in crematorium 1. According to them, crematorium 1 was only an experimental killing station. Once the Germans had devised a workable method there, “work was started at Birkenau on the construction of four large crematoria complete with gas chambers.”339 On their completion, crematorium 1 was closed down. The program of extermination overtook, however, the schedule of the architects, and therefore the SS was forced to adopt a stop-gap solution and adapt two cottages into gas chambers. After a description of bunkers 1 and 2, Kraus and Kulka described the gassing operation, and the disposal of the corpses in mass graves.

    After a few months, although the corpses were covered with chlorine, lime and earth, and intolerable stench began to hang around the entire neighbourhood. Deadly bacteria were found in springs and wells, and there was a severe danger of epidemics.

    To meet this problem, the Sonderkommando was increased in size. Day and night, working in two shifts, the prisoners in the squad dug up decaying corpses, took them away on narrow-gauge trucks and burnt them in heaps in the immediate vicinity.

    The work of exhuming and burning 50,000 corpses lasted almost till December 1942.

    After this experience the Nazis stopped burying their victims and cremated them instead.

    Such were the emergency methods used for destroying people at Birkenau in the early days. They continued in use until February, 1943, when the crematoria were completed and brought into use–first Crematorium I, and then the others.340

    Kraus and Kulka stressed that these new crematoria were ultra-modern “factories of corpses.”341 Their book reproduced the blueprints of the crematoria which, as they claimed, the inmate architect Vera Foltynova had removed from the architectural office in August 1944. Foltynova had given the plans to Kraus and Kulka, who in turn had been able to smuggle the plans out of the camp and send on their way to Czechoslovakia “because at that time we assumed that both the crematoria and ourselves would be liquidated as witnesses to German crimes.”342

    At first sight the crematoria–one-storey buildings in the German style, with steep roofs, barred windows and dormer windows–presented the appearance of large bakeries.

    The space around them was enclosed by high tension barbed wire and was always well kept. The roads were sprayed with sand, and well-tended flowers bloomed in the beds on the lawn. The underground gas chambers, projecting some 50 cm. Above ground level, formed a grassy terrace.

    A person coming to the crematoria for the first time could have no idea what these industrial buildings were actually for.

    Crematoria I and II were close to the camp itself and were visible from all sides. Crematoria III and IV, on the other hand, were hidden in a little wood; tall pine trees and birches concealed the tragedies that befell millions. This place was called Brzezinka, from which the mane Birkenau is derived.343

    Kraus and Kulka followed with a description of the interior arrangement of the basement of crematoria 2 and 3 (I and II in their numbering system).

    At Crematoria I and II there were two underground rooms. The larger of these was an undressing room and was occasionally used as a mortuary; the other was a gas chamber.

    The whitewashed undressing-room had square concrete pillars, about 4 meter apart. Along the walls and round the pillars there were benches, with coathooks surmounted by numbers. A pipe with a number of water taps ran the entire length of one of the walls.

    There were notices in several languages:

    And arrows pointing to the doors bearing the words:

    The gas chamber was somewhat shorter than the undressing-room and looked like a communal bathroom. The showers in the roof, of course, never held water. Water taps were placed along the walls. Between the concrete pillars were two iron pillars, 30 cm x 30 cm, covered in thickly plaited wire. These pillars passed through the concrete ceiling to the grassy terrace mentioned above; here they terminated in airtight trap-doors into which the SS men fed the cyclon gas. The purpose of the plaited wire was to prevent any interference with the cyclon crystals. These pillars were a later addition to the gas chamber and hence do not appear in the plan.

    Each of the gas chambers at Crematoria I and II was capable of accommodating up to 2,000 people at a time.

    At the entrance to the gas chamber was a lift, behind double doors, for transporting the corpses to the furnace rooms on the ground-floor, with their 15 three-stage furnaces.

    At the bottom stage air was in by electric fans, at the middle the fuel was burnt, and at the top of corpses were placed, two or three at a time, on the stout fire-clay grate. The furnaces had cast-iron doors which were opened by means of a pulley.

    There was also a dissecting-room on the ground-floor where the prisonerdoctors in the Sonderkommando carried out various experiments and post mortems under the supervision of SS doctors.344

    One of the great services of Kraus and Kulka’s book was that it was the first to provide reliable plans of Auschwitz and Birkenau. For example, their description of the crematoria was accompanied by a fold-out sheet with a set of three annotated plans, showing the basement of crematorium 3, the first floor of the same building, and the plan of crematorium 4.345 They also provided two photographs of a model of crematorium 3, which showed the underground gas chamber, the incineration hall with the five triplemuffle ovens, and the living quarters of the Sonderkommando in the attic.346

    Kraus and Kulka provided lengthy descriptions of the arrival procedures both before and after the completion of the spur line that connected Birkenau to the main railway lines. Before the spring of 1944, transports arrived at a special ramp outside the camp, adjacent to the railway corridor, and were greeted by the SS and inmates of the so-called Canada Squad who had orders to take care of all the deportees’ belongings.

    As the men got out of the trucks, they were separated from women and children. Then an SS doctor and SS officer, after a superficial examination of each man, would show by a jerk of the thumb whether they were to go to the right or left–life or death.

    Children were assigned to death, and women who did not want to be separated from their children went with them. Of the remaining women only those from sixteen to thirty who were young and healthy were selected for the camp; the rest were sent to the gas chambers. Of the men some 15 to 20% were classified fit for work.

    People destined for the gas chambers were loaded on to waiting lorries. Those classified as fit for work had to walk to the camps on foot, but before they left they were given the option of going on the lorries, if they thought they could not walk–which meant death in the gas chambers.

    We shall never forget the sight of those long convoys of fast-moving lorries, packed full of people. We were unable to give them the last word or sign to show them where they were heading–but they were really better off if they did not know.

    One of the most cynical touches in the whole affair was the use of an ambulance, marked with the Red Cross. The vehicle waited at the ramp, to give the impression that it was performing the normal function of an ambulance, and then moved off at the tail of the convoy. But instead of medicines and patients it carried tins of deadly cyclon B crystals for the gas chambers.347

    Well-written and filled with observations based on personal experience, Kraus and Kulka’s Factory of Death was to become a classic, going through many and increasingly expanded editions in both Czech and other languages.

    In the years that followed, enormous amounts of eye-witness evidence became available, some of which Sehn was to include in the subsequent editions of his initial forensic report. There is little use to review the various testimonies of survivors, as they do not substantially challenge or alter the knowledge that had been based on the evidence given in 1945 and 1946. It is, however, useful to include at this point a short discussion about the attempts of Holocaust deniers to challenge the testimonies of eye-witnesses such as Dragon, Tauber, and others. In general, Holocaust deniers have not spent too much energy on attempts to refute these statements. Their major effort has been directed to cast doubt on German documents such as Bischoff’s letter containing the reference to the gassing cellar (Vergasungskeller), or the confessions of SS men who worked in Auschwitz, such as Pery Broad and Dr. Johann Paul Kremer, or camp Kommandant Rudolf Höss. The attacks on pieces of contemporary documentary evidence, or the self-incriminating statements made by SS personnel, are often of an intensively technical nature, and will be discussed in detail in Part Four of this report.

    Attempts by deniers to discredit Jewish eye-witnesses such as Dragon, Tauber, and others have, in general, not taken the form of detailed hermeneutical analysis. Instead, Holocaust deniers have limited themselves to cats general suspicion on the evidentiary validity of such historical sources. The basic negationist position vis-a-vis survivor testimony was developed by, the “father of Holocaust denial,” the Frenchman Paul Rassinier. During the war Rassinier, belonged to the French resistance, and after his arrest on November 29, 1943, Rassinier spent fourteen months as an inmate in the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dora.348 According to his own account, het met there an inmate named Jircszah, who had been in Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Dachau and Oranienburg before being transported to Buchenwald, and who became his mentor. Jircszah told Rassinier not to trust the atrocity stories told by the other inmates.

    He told me the story of Buchenwald and the other camps. “There is a lot that is true in all that is said about the horrors for which they are the setting, but there is a lot of exaggeration, too. You have to reckon with the complex of Ulysses’ lie, which is everyone’s, and so it is with all of the internees. Human beings need to exaggerate the bad as well as the good and the ugly as well as the beautiful. Everyone hopes and wants to come out of this business with the halo of a saint, a hero, or a martyr, and each one embroiders his own Odyssey without realizing that the reality is quite enough in itself.”349

    Liberated in April 1945, Rassinier returned to France physically a broken man, but mentally he had hardened in the ideological stance prepared for by his pre-war revolutionary ideology and shaped by Jircszah’s lectures. He had no patience for or empathy with his fellow deportees.

    The deportees came back with hatred and resentment on their tongues and in their pens. They were not tired of war, rather they had an axe to grind and they demanded vengeance. Moreover, since they suffered from an inferiority complex–there were only sone 30,000 of them out of a population of 40 million inhabitants–they wantonly created a story of horror for a public that always clamored for something more sensational in order the more surely to inspire pity and recognition.

    The inflammatory fabrications of one deportee soon inspired similar stories by others, and the progressively were caught on a treadmill of lies. Although some deportees were duped by others in this process, most of them managed quite consciously to blacken the picture even more in their zeal to hold the limelight. So it was with Ulysses who, during the course of his voyage, each day added a new adventure to his Odyssey, as much to please the public taste of the times as to justify his long absence in the eyes of his family.350

    Rassinier became a crusader against the horror stories told by the deportees. It was not difficult to show inconsistencies and errors in detail. These were important to him. “I would like to make the observation …that the whole is composed of details,” Rassinier observed, “and an error of detail, whether made in good or bad faith, regardless of whether it is of a kind that is intended to mislead the observer, must logically make the observer doubt the reliability of the whole.” And he added the rhetorical question: “and if there are many errors in detail…? And if they are almost all shown to be made in bad faith?”351

    Following Rassinier, Holocaust deniers routinely dismiss survivor testimonies concerning the Holocaust as “Lies of Ulysses,” and their mental disposition as the “Odysseus Complex.” They will try to find one “error of detail,” and on the basis of this dismiss the whole statement. For example, during the First Zündel Trial held in Toronto in 1985, the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson argued that the War Refugee Board report had no value because the plan of the crematorium drawn by Vrba contained errors.

    [Defense Counsel]: “Now, in respect to this W.R.B. Report, you say because of the drawings respecting the gas chambers that are in the W.R.B. Report, and that in relation to the plans you found; is that right?”
    [Faurisson]: “Yeah.”
    Q.: “Any other reason why you say we should not believe the W.R.B. Report of Dr. Vrba and others?”
    A.: “The plan of Auschwitz, the plan of the crematorium.”
    Q.: “What about them?”
    A.: “They do not–they are nothing.”
    Q.: “What do you mean, they’re nothing?”
    A.: “When you see the reality of the place …”
    Q.: “Yes.”
    A.: “…It does not stand, that’s all. When you see on the same level a gas chamber, then a track to put the people, the bodies in the furnaces, and when you see that in fact this place which was a mortuary was underground, that you had a little lift, and on the–at the other level you had the furnaces…”
    Q.: “Yes.”
    A.: “…And the furnaces are not at all like they have been drawn by Dr.Vrba, and he said…”
    Q.: “What do you conclude from that, doctor?”
    A.: “I conclude that it is not exact.”
    Q.: “What do you conclude about the author of that, if he says it is exact?
    A.: “I say, ‘You say something which is not exact.'”
    Q.: “All right. So is there any other reason why we should not believe the W.R.B.Report?”
    A.: “Yes, because, for example, you have the report of the Polish major.”
    Q.: “Yes, which is part of the W.R.B. Report?
    A.: “Yes, I remember that, that there are many things; this Polish major says that the people were gassed by a hydrocyanic bomb.”352

    After a diversion on the statement of another witness, Christie asked Faurisson if he had any other reasons to say that the War Refugee Board report should not be considered credible. He answered: “I think it’s sufficient for me.”353

    The Spanish negationist Enrique Aynat Eknes tried to demolish the credibility of the War Refugee Board report by quoting its description of crematorium 2. His treatment of the Vrba-Wetzlar account followed that of the testimonies of a)Rudolf Höss, b)Pery Broad, 3)Dr.P. Bendel–testimonies that will be discussed in the following chapter. In each case, Eknes quoted a selected passage describing the killing installations, and provided his “critique.”

    d)Alfred Wetzler (Auschwitz internee):
    At present there are four crematoriums in operation in Birkenau, two large ones, I and II, and two small, III and IV. Those of type I and II consist of three parts: a) the furnace room; b) the great hall; c) the gas chamber. An enormous chimney rises above the furnace room, around which are grouped nine furnaces, each with four openings, each opening can receive three normal cadavres at one time, and at the end of an hour and a half the corpses are completely consumed. That represents a daily capacity of around 2,000 bodies. Near this room there is a large reception hall arranged so as to give the impression of being the lobby of a public bath. It holds 2,000 people and apparently there is a similar waiting room on the floor below. From there, a door and several stairsteps take you to the gas chamber which is very long and narrow. The walls of this room appear to contain shower entrances, for the purposes of deceiving the victims. In the ceiling are fixed three little doors that can be sealed hermetically from the outside. A track leads from the gas chamber towards the crematory room. The administering of the gas is done as follows: the unfortunate victims are taken to the hall (b) where they are ordered to disrobe . . . Next the victims are brought together into the gas chamber (c). In order to squeeze this crowd into the cramped space, shots are frequently fired for the purposes of inducing them those who have already got to the far end to move still closer together. When everyone is inside, the heavy doors are closed. Then comes a short pause, probably to let the temperature of the room rise to a certain level, after which the SS men, wearing gas masks, climb to the roof, open the little doors, and drop a preparation in powder form taken from metal canisters labelled “Cyclon,” “For use against parasites.” . . . At the end of three minutes everyone in the room has died. No one ever survived this treatment, whereas it is was not uncommon to discover signs of life in those who had been executed in the birch forest, because of the primitive methods employed there. Next the room is opened, ventilated, and the Sonderkommando piles up the bodies on flatbed trucks and transports them to the crematory rooms where the incineration takes place.


    –We already know that each crematorium was provided with five crematories of three muffle furnaces each. The reference to the nine furnaces and four openings is pure invention.

    –The “Great hall” is also a product of Wetzler’s imagination, just like the “waiting room” on the ground floor. The “gas chamber” and the “crematory room” were not connected by a “track” but, as we know, by an elevator.

    –Accordingly, if the only means of access to the crematories from the supposed gas chamber was the freight elevator, the “flatbed truck” mentioned in the text would serve no purpose.

    –It would not be necessary for the SS men wearing gas masks to “climb” to the gas chamber, since the latter was underground, and its ceiling was practically at ground level.

    –But the best way of convincing ourselves that we are faced with apocryphalevidence is to compare the plan contained in Wetzler’s supposed original document(see figure 12) with Figure 5, put out by the Auschwitz museum. The conclusion is obvious: Wetzler has never seen the place he describes.354

    Indeed, neither Wetzlar nor Vrba were ever inside the crematoria, and they did not claim that they were. In his 1963 memoir I Cannot Forgive, Vrba was very explicit about the fact that he had never been inside a crematorium, and that he got his information from Sonderkommando Philip Müller.355 In 1985, during the Zündel Trial, Vrba came back to the issue as a witness for the prosecution. In cross-examination by Zündel’s defense counsel Christie, Vrba had given the following explanation when challenged on the reliability of the description and the accompanying drawing included in the War Refugee Board report.

    Mr.Christie: “How do you explain the fact that you’ve drawn on the diagram that I showed you every crematorium the same shape in 1944, when you drew the diagram upon your escape?”
    A.: “Because I had only two days to write the whole report, and to try to depict the crematoria. There was a great urgency with that plan, because the objective of the plan was to get it to Hungary and to use this whole report towards the Hungarian Jews of imminent deportation. Under that conditions I didn’t lose much time with details like what is the difference between Krematorium I and II and Krematorium II and III, but I limited myself to depict the position of the gas chambers and crematoria [on] one side, and the geographic position of the whole murderous complex on the other side.”
    Q.: “Sure. I now produce and show to you a diagram which came from, I suggest, your War Refugee Report of 1944 in which you depicted a crematoria. Correct?”
    A.: “That’s right.”
    Q.: “Is it accurate?”
    A.: “This I cannot say. It was said that as we were not in the large crematoria, we reconstructed it from messages which we got from members of the Sonderkommando working in the crematorium, and therefore, that approximately how it transpired in our mind, and in our ability to depict what we have heard.”356

    In other words, the question is not if the reconstruction Vrba and Wetzlar made after their escape is an exact description of the crematoria, but if it is probable that they had indeed been in some regular contact with a Sonderkommando who knew the crematoria, and who gave them information about these installations and the extermination procedures therein. Reading the passage with this in mind, it is important first of all to observe that Eknes did not provide a full quote, but omitted to passages that provide specific detail.357

    The administering of the gas is done as follows: the unfortunate victims are taken to the hall (b) where they are ordered to disrobe. To complete the fiction that they are going to bathe, each person receives a towel and a small piece of soap issued by two men clad in white coats. Next the victims are brought together into the gas chamber (c). […] and drop a preparation in powder form taken from metal canisters labelled “Cyclon,” “For use against parasites,” which is manufactured by a Hamburg concern. It is presumed that this is a “Cyanide” mixture of some sort which turns into gas at a certain temperature. At the end of three minutes everyone in the room has died.

    Both details were later confirmed by independent sources, and Eknes’ decision to drop them in his “quotation” from the War Refugee Report seems a brazen attempt to remove evidence contrary to this thesis.

    If we consider the text as a whole, and identify the various elements of the description, then it becomes clear that most of them can be accounted for in the design of either crematoria 2 and 3, or crematoria 4 and 5, and that the compilation of these elements into a composite “crematorium” reconstructed by two escapees without any architectural training is as good as one could expect, given the circumstances. First of all, as Vrba and Wetzlar mentioned, there were four crematoriums in operation in Birkenau, consisting of two large crematoria–I (2) and II (3)–and two small crematoria–III (4)and IV (5). The information about the number of incinerators is obviously wrong, but the statement that each opening can receive three normal cadavers at one time was confirmed by Tauber and Höss. The “large reception hall arranged so as to give the impression of being the lobby of a public bath” must refer to the undressing rooms of crematoria 4 and 5, which were indeed located next to the incineration rooms. The description of the gas chambers, with the “little doors” in the ceiling can refer to either crematoria 2 and 3, or to crematoria 4 and 5. The description of the extermination procedure is more or less correct, as is the use of metal tins containing the Zyklon delousing agent and the way the solid substance “turns into gas at a certain temperature.” Finally “flatbed trucks” were at times used in crematorium 2 to transport corpses from the elevator to the ovens. The tracks are still to be seen in the ruins of this crematorium.

    The description of the crematoria in the War Refugee Board report contains errors, but given the conditions under which information was obtained, the lack of architectural training of Vrba and Wetzlar, and the situation in which the report was compiled, one would become suspicious if it did not contain errors. Vrba and wetzlar did not claim to provide an exact description of the crematoria. Their report was not a dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment for a graduate degree in archeology. Their reconstruction of the killing installations was a good-faith attempt, based on whatever information they had been able to obtain, to convince the world that an unimaginable event was taking place in the heart of Europe–an event that still staggers and numbs the mind.

    Confronted with the lengthy and very detailed testimony of Tauber, Eknes applied a technique of evasion. He implicitly dismisses the importance of Tauber’s statement with one sentence: “In general, this testimony is in agreement with the official thesis.”358 Like so many other Holocaust deniers, Eknes prefers to deal with inconvenient evidence by ignoring it. Yet he does not want to let one opportunity slip to use Tauber against “the official thesis.”

    In general, this testimony is in agreement with the official thesis. However, it contains a contradiction where he states that he was assigned to the Sonderkommando of crematorium II on 4 March 1943, inasmuch as this crematorium was not turned over to the camp administration until the 31st day of that month. H.Tauber further declared:

    Between these two rooms [the disrobing room and the gas chamber] there was a corridor to which there was access from the outside by way of few stairs, and a chute down which they flung the cadavers coming from the camp, to convey them to the crematories.

    This chute for cadavers establishes at least that the Germans had designed the crematoriums also for the incineration of prisoners who died from natural causes or epidemics, since, as we shall see, the “circuit” followed by those destined for extermination in the gas chambers was different. The tacit acknowledgement of the mixed use of the crematoriums that is derived from Tauber’s statement is per se disturbing for the credibility of the official doctrine. It is difficult to accept that the Germans had established a “circuit” for the cremation of the deceased from non-criminal causes which interfered with that followed by the victims of the gas chambers. It would have been much simpler to take the ones who died from natural causes directly to the crematory furnaces, avoiding their passage through the crowded basement of the crematorium.359

    Eknes probably felt that he could ignore the bulk of Tauber’s testimony because he had identified the one contradiction that, according to Rassinier, was to make the whole account irrelevant: while Tauber claimed that he had been assigned to the Sonderkommando of crematorium 2 on March 4,1943, documents showed that crematorium 2 was only turned over to the camp administration on March 31. But is there really a contradiction? It is clear that the official transfer of the crematorium occurred when the building had been fully completed but tests of the incinerators, undertaken in the presence of visitors from Berlin, had taken place as early as March 5,and the first experimental gassings had taken place on March 13. Both operations required a team of Sonderkommando. Only when the crematorium was deemed fully operational was it signed over to the camp authorities. As a result, there is no contradiction between the fact that Tauber was assigned to the Sonderkommando of crematorium 2 on March 4, and the official transfer of the building more than three weeks later.

    As to the second part of Tauber’s testimony that raised Eknes’ interest the following: Eknes claims that Tauber stated that “there was a corridor to which there was access from the outside by way of few stairs, and a chute down which they flung the cadavers coming from the camp, to convey them to the crematories.” The translation made by Dorota Ryszka and Adam Rutkowski, used by Pressac and consequently by myself, states that “there was a corridor, in which there came from the exterior a stairway and a slide for throwing the bodies that were brought to the camp to be incinerated in the crematorium.” Thus while Eknes makes a claim about a practice (of “flunging” “cadavers” into the basement of crematorium 2), Tauber refers to the intention of the slide–an intention that preceded the transformation of morgue 1 into a gas chamber. It is unclear to what extent that intention was actually realized during the operation of crematorium 2. What is clear is that even if the slide was used, there is no necessary contradiction with the use of the basement as an extermination installation. Eknes claims that “[i]t is difficult to accept that the Germans had established a ‘circuit’ for the cremation of the deceased from non-criminal causes which interfered with that followed by the victims of the gas chambers. It would have been much simpler to take the ones who died from natural causes directly to the crematory furnaces, avoiding their passage through the crowded basement of the crematorium.” He assumes, therefore, that there are two continuous processes, represented by two “circuits” that ought not interfere with each other. Yet the basement of crematorium 2 was not constantly crowded. Especially before the Hungarian Action, there were many days that no gassings took place, and there was ample time and space for corpses of inmates who had died in the camp to be brought to the basement of the crematorium, where their numbers would be registered in the death books and, if any, their golden teeth would be removed.

    The Holocaust deniers have preferred to bury Tauber’s testimony in silence.

    As to the countless testimonies of those survivors who were not employed as Sonderkommando, but who arrived in the camp, were subjected to selection, lost their family at that moment, and who were admitted to the camp never to see their beloved ones back, admitted to eke out a miserable existence marked by monthly selections, which led to the disappearance of one’s comrades, one’s bunkmates–as to these survivor testimonies the Holocaust deniers claim that the source of all their stories is, in the words of the German negationist Wilhelm Stäglich, “mass suggestion.”

    The investigation of this phenomenon, in regard to the alleged extermination of Jews in the “gas chambers” of so-called extermination camps, would certainly be a worthwhile task for psychologists and sociologists. For even if the extermination of Jews had taken place, it would be unrealistic to assume that the laws of mass suggestion could not have had any influence on the description of the extent and nature of killings of Jews that actually took place. Probably this influence was far greater than one would imagine.360

    According to Stäglich, the camps were closed off from the world, and were therefore ruled by rumour and provided therefore the perfect context for the emergence of mass suggestion. Invoking the work of the French psychologist Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) on self-delusions of “psychological crowds,”361 Stäglich claimed that “the many accounts of the alleged mass gassings in Birkenau have their origin in mass hallucinations or mass suggestion inspired by propaganda.” In short, inmates would have heard Allied radio broadcasts claiming gassings in the camps, and as a result have started to fantasize about such gassings in their own situation. “It is easy to find examples substantiating the view that many accounts of the alleged mass gassings in Birkenau have their origin in mass hallucinations or mass suggestion inspired by propaganda, for the observations upon which such reports are based can usually be explained in a completely natural way,” Stäglich argued. That those deemed “unfit for work” left the place of selection in the direction of the crematoria can be explained because in that vicinity was also a hospital for inmates, and a bath house.

    An equally natural explanation can be given for the observation, variously reported, that corpses were removed from the cellar of one of the crematoria, or a room next to the crematorium, to the incineration area of the crematorium. It is well-known that the death-rate in the Auschwitz camps was high at times– especially during the frequent typhus epidemics. It is understandable that all these dead people could not be cremated at once. They must have been stored in a special area until they could be cremated. This was the “corpse cellar” of the crematorium, mentioned in various documents, or an annex serving the same purpose. The removal of corpses from such an area was a completely normal procedure. But many an inmate who observed such a procedure may, under the mass suggestive influence of rumors that were in circulation, have come in all good faith to the conclusion that he was witness to a “gassing.”362

    But then, what about the testimonies about living people descending into those “corpse cellars.”

    Stäglich was not concerned about the fact that so many people unanimously attest that gassings occurred. “In the nature of things,” he observed, “the unanimity of many groups of witnesses is itself the result of mass suggestion.”363 Stäglich then formulated his rules for accepting eye-witness evidence.

    As evidence for the alleged gassing of the Jews, reports that do not contain specific details about it, but are limited to quite vague allegations of this type–as is usually the case–must be rejected at once. Such general statements are just as worthless as hearsay testimony, since they cannot be proved. Further, only statements free of contradictions, which do not stand in contradiction to other circumstances and facts, may lay claim to credibility. Finally, to have probative value, a statement must contain nothing improbable, something that may seem obvious to most people, but–as we shall see–is not always the case with reports about the Birkenau crematoria.364

    Stäglich had no trouble finding some obscure accounts published immediately after the war that did, indeed, have little probative value. Especially Eugène Aroneau’s 1946 collage of unrelated quotes taken from 125 different eyewitness accounts of various quality, proved an easy victim.365 Aroneau had submerged all the individual differences between the camps in order to evoke something that could be called “the essence of the concentration camp.” He reserved a particular scorn for Aroneau because it was the “original source of the later and often-modified story of a woman who allegedly snatched a pistol from an SS officer, in front of the gas chamber at Birkenau, and shot him to death.

    In this case, it was an “Israelite of extraordinary beauty” from Belgium, whose child had been “smashed against a concrete wall” by that SS officer. Kogon, on the other hand, tells this story as that of an Italian dancer who, on orders of the SS, had “to dance naked in front of the crematorium” before her gassing. Kogon even knows the name of the SS officer who was shot to death because he was so careless about his pistol: It was “Rapportführer Schillinger.” Karl Barthel also repeats this tale, in his book Die Welt ohne Erbarmen [The World Without Pity]. According to him, however, the heroine was a “French actress,” for whose “courage” Barthel has words of praise. Barthel himself was only in Buchenwald, but he probably found it necessary to make his own account a little bit more interesting with this and other such gossip. Other authors vary the tale of this “martyr” even further. She is an unusually instructive example of the imaginings of former concentration camp inmates.366

    Aroneau was an easy target, but Stäglich studiously avoided the accounts published in this chapter–the posthumous testimony of Salmen Gradowski, statements made by Walter Blass, Shlomo Dragon, Henry Tauber, and Michael Kula. And he ignored the corroborating statements of the Polish inmate Stanislaw Klodzinski, “The Polish Major,” Stanislaw Jankowski, Janda Weiss, and an SS-man named Pery Broad who, independently from each other, corroborated the event. Klodzinski did so in a letter written to Teresa Lasocka-Estreicher, smuggled out of the camp shortly after the event. “The Polish Major” did so in early 1944, when he wrote about the incident in his report. Stanislaw Jankowski testified about the incident immediately after the war in Auschwitz, and Janda Weiss talked about it in Buchenwald–mor or less at the same time that SS-man Pery Broad provided information about the event whilst imprisoned in a British prisoner-of-war camp. All these witnesses told of that extraordinary woman who on October 23, 1943 could not tolerate her fate and that of her companions any longer, snatched Schillenger’s pistol, and killed him. As the story that Stäglich judged “an unusually instructive example of the imagiinings of former concentratio camp inmates” has indeed proven to be based on fact, what about all those other stories, all those testimonies full of instructive details, all those statements free of major contradictions?

    V Confessions, 1945 – 47

    But good sense, founded in experience, will answer, that they who record matters, concerning which they are strongly biased by their affections, their passions and their prejudices, and wherein they have directly, or indirectly, an immediate and great private interest to serve by inventing falsehoods, or by disguising truths, are never to be received as good witnesses, unless their testimony be confirmed by collateral and disinterested evidence….When are less liable to be deceived by the concurrence of authors, more independent and more indifferent than these, though they may not be all of equal credit: because when their motives and designs are not the same, when they had no common principle, and when they cannot be suspected to have had any concert together, nothing out of the notoriety of facts can make their relations coincide.

    Lord Bolingbroke, “The Substance of Some Letters.”367

    By the end of the 1945 the major elements of the story had been established on the basis of on-site inspections, testimonies of witnesses, and study of the crematoria files in the archive of the Zentralbauleitung. Yet the Poles had not been able to interview any of the men who had constructed and run the camp, and who could give some insight into the aims that had shaped the development of the camp. Two documents that became available to the Poles in late 1945 were, while extremely important as corroborating evidence, not very informative as to the actual operation of the camp. The first was the war-time diary of Dr. Johann Paul Kremmer, Dozent of Anatomy at the University of Münster. Kremer had volunteered as a member of the General SS in 1935, and he had been detailed to Auschwitz in August 1942 to replace a physician who had fallen ill. There he served until November 20. An avid diarist since he was sixteen, Kremer recorded his impressions at the time. Kremer was not part of the overall command structure, and on temporary duty in Auschwitz he showed remarkably little curiosity as to the historic events he witnessed and, in a subordinate role, helped to shape. Yet this very lack of engagement also marks the great historic interest of the diary. One of the remarkable aspects of the Holocaust was that it was conceived, initiated, executed, and completed by ordinary men who had learned to kill as part of their ordinary activities.

    Kremer’s diary was found when he was arrested, and was immediately recognized as an important piece of evidence of the atrocities committed in Auschwitz. We give here,in the common English translation, a few excerpts.

    August 30,1942. Departure from Prague 8.15 a.m. through Böhmisch Trübau, Olmütz, Prerau, Oderberg. Arrival at Concentration Camp Auschwitz at 5.36 p.m. Quarantine in camp on account of numerous contagious diseases (typhus, malaria, dysentery). Received to secret order through garrison physician Hauptsturmführer [Kurt} Uhlenbrock and accommodation in a room (no.26)in the Waffen-SS club-house [Home].

    August 31, 1942. Tropical climate with 28° Centigrade in the shade, dust and innumerable flies! Excellent food in the Home. This evening, for instance, we had sour duck livers for 0.40 RM, with stuffed tomatoes, tomato salad, etc. Water is infected, so we drink seltzer-water which is served free (mattoni). First inoculation against typhus. Had photo taken for the camp identity card.

    September 1, 1942. Have ordered SS officer’s cap, sword-belt and brace from Berlin by letter. In the afternoon was present at the gassing of a block with Cyclon B against lice.

    September 2, 1942. Was present for the first time at a special action at 3 a.m. By comparison Dante’s inferno seems almost a comedy. Auschwitz is justly called an extermination camp!368

    After his arrest, Kremer was extradited to Poland, and he became one of the defendants in the Auschwitz Trial held before the Supreme National Tribunal in Cracow in November and December 1947. During his pre-trial interrogation Kremer was asked to elucidate the various entries of his diary. On August 18, 1947, he stated that “by September 2, 1942, at 3 a.m. I had already been assigned to take part in the action of gassing people.”

    These mass murders took place in small cottages situated outside the Birkenau camp in a wood. The cottages were called “bunkers” in the SS-men’s slang. All SS physicians on duty in the camp took turns to participate in the gassings, which were called Sonderaktion [special action]. My part as a physician at the gassing consisted in remaining in readiness near the bunker. I was brought there by car.I sat in front with the driver and an SS hospital orderly sat in the back of the car with oxygen apparatus to revive SS-men, employed in the gassing, in case any of them should succumb to the poisonous fumes. When the transport with people who were destined to be gassed arrived at the railway ramp, the SS officers selected from among the new arrivals persons fit to work, while the rest–old people, all children, women with children in their arms and other persons not deemed fit to work–were loaded onto lorries and driven to the gas chambers. I used to follow behind the transport till we reached the bunker. There people were driven into the barrack huts where the victims undressed and then went naked to the gas chambers. Very often no incidents occurred, as the SS-men kept the people quiet, maintaining that they were to bathe and be deloused. After driving all of them into the gas chamber the door was closed and an SS-man in a gas mask threw the contents of a Cyclon tin through an opening in the side wall. The shouting and screaming of the victim could be heard through that opening and it was clear that they were fighting for their lives. These shouts were heard for a very short while. I should say for some minutes, but I am unable to give the exact length of time.369

    Three days later Kremer witnessed another gassing, and dutifully recorded it in his diary.

    September 5, 1942. At noon was present at a special action in the women’s camp(Moslems)–the most horrible of all horrors. Hschf Thilo, military surgeon, was right when he said to me today that we are located here in the anus mundi. In the evening at about 8 p.m. another special action with a draft from Holland. men compete to take part in such actions as they get additional rations–1/5 litre vodka, 5 cigarettes, 100 grammes of sausage and bread. Today and tomorrow (Sunday)on duty.370

    In Poland, Kremer gave again a full explanation of this entry. On July 17,1947 he testified that “the action of gassing emaciated women from the women’s camp was particularly unpleasant.”

    Such individuals were generally called Muselmänner [Moslems ]. I remember taking part in the gassing of such women in daylight. I am unable to state how numerous that group was. When I came to the bunker they sat clothed on the ground. As the clothes were in fact worn out camp clothes, they were not let into the undressing barracks but undressed in the open. I could deduce from the behaviour of these women that they realized what was awaiting them. They begged the SS-men to be allowed to live, they wept, but all of them were driven into the gas chamber and gassed. Being an anatomist I had seen many horrors, had dealt with corpses, but what I then saw was not to be compared with anything ever seen before. It was under the influence of these impressions that I noted in my diary, under the date of September 5, 1942 “The most horrible of all horrors. Haupsturmführer Thilo was right when he said to me today that we are located here in the anus mundi.” I used this expression because I could not imagine anything more sickening and more horrible.371

    Yet by the next day Kremer was sufficiently recovered to enjoy an “excellent” Sunday dinner consisting of “tomato soup, one half chicken with potatoes and red cabbage (20 grammes of fat), dessert and magnificent vanilla ice-cream.”372

    Three more entries are of interest. The first one is of October 3.

    October 3, 1942. Today I preserved fresh material from the human liver, spleen and pancreas, also lice from persons infected with typhus, in pure alcohol. Whole streets at Auschwitz are down with typhus. I therefore took the first inoculation against abdominal typhus. Obersturmbannführer Schwarz ill with typhus!373

    During his trial Kremer commented at length on the first sentence of this entry.

    In my diary I mentioned in several entries the taking, for research purposes, of fresh human material. It was like this: I had been for an extensive period interested in investigating the changes developing in the human organism as a result of starvation. At Auschwitz I mentioned this to Wirths who said that I would be able to get completely fresh material for my research from those prisoners who were killed by phenol injections. To choose suitable specimens I used to visit the last block on the right [Block 28 ], where prisoners who acted as doctors presented the patients to the SS physician and described the illness of the patient. The SS physician decided then–taking into consideration the prisoner’s chances of recovery–whether he should be treated in the hospital, perhaps as an outpatient, or be liquidated. Those placed by the SS physician in the latter group were led away by the SS orderlies. The SS physician primarily designated for liquidation those prisoners whose diagnosis was Allgemeine Körperschwäche [general bodily exhaustion]. I used to observe such prisoners and if one of them aroused my interest, owing to his advanced state of emaciation, I asked the orderly to reserve the given patient for me and let me know when he would be killed with an injection. At the time fixed by the orderly the patients selected by me were again brought to the last block, and were put into a room on the other side of the corridor opposite the room where the examinations, during which the patient had been selected, had taken place. The patient was put upon the dissecting table while he was still alive. I then approached the table and put several questions to the man as to such details which pertained to my research. For instance, I asked what his weight had been before the arrest, how much weight he had lost since then, whether he took any medicines, etc. When I had collected my information the orderly approached the patient and killed him with an injection in the vicinity of the heart. As far as I knew only phenol injections were used. Death was instantaneous after the injection. I myself never made any lethal injections.374

    The second entry is of October 12.

    October 12, 1942.(Hössler!) The second inoculation against typhus; strong reaction in the evening (fever). In spite of this was present at night at another special action with a draft from Holland (1,600 persons). Horrible scene in front of the last bunker! This was the 10th special action.375

    On July 18, 1947, Kremer elucidated this entry as follows:

    In connection with the gassing described by me in the diary under the date of October 12, 1942, I have to explain that around 1,600 Dutchmen were then gassed. This is an approximate figure which I noted down after hearing it mentioned by others. This action was conducted by the SS officer Hössler. I remember how he tried to drive the whole group into one bunker. He was successful except for one man, whom it was not possible by any means to squeeze inside the bunker. This man was killed by Hösler with a pistol shot. I therefore wrote in my diary about horrible scenes in front of the last bunker, and I mentioned Hössler’s name in connection with this incident.376

    Finally there is the entry for October 18.

    October 18, 1942. In wet and cold weather was on this Sunday morning present at the 11th special action (from Holland). Terrible scenes when 3 women begged merely to have their lives spared.377

    Again, Kremer explained this entry during his trial.

    During the special action, described by me in my diary under the date of October 18, 1942, three women from Holland refused to enter the gas chamber and begged for their lives. They were young and healthy women, but their begging was to no avail. The SS-men, taking part in the action, shot them on the spot.378

    If Kremer’s diary provides those who seek to deny the gassings in Auschwitz with some direct German evidence that support the “gassing claim,” and if it provides the historian with important clues as to the mental state of one class of perpetrators, it lets us down in that it provides little factual knowledge of the gassing operations. A second document, the testimony of SS-Unterscharführer Pery Broad, proved rather more informative. Broad, who served in the Political Department (the “camp Gestapo”) at Auschwitz, wrote it shortly after the German capitulation while in British captivity. By all accounts he wrote the report voluntarily while working in the camp as a translator for the British counter-intelligence unit. In 1964, during the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, Broad’s British superior Cornelis van het Kaar testified that in the beginning of June, 1945, Broad approached him, and told him the history of Auschwitz.

    Van het Kaar: “It seemed so important to me, that I immediately took him out of the camp, and gave him an English uniform. I told him: ‘Write everything down, especially write about the daily life there.’ Broad lived in the same house as we, and wrote everything down in two or three days. Later Broad went to the Munsterlager camp and began to help us with weeding our war criminals from the camps.

    Representative of Adjunct-Prosecutor [Henry ] Ormond: “Did other people cooperate with the writing of the report? Did that possibility even exist?” Van het Kaar: “No. Broad has written the report by himself. He came voluntarily to us. We did not search him. He came to us around 15 June. It was a kind of confession. He wanted to unload his heart.”379

    Broad created six copies of his report. One of them was given to van het Kaar’s superior Hermann Rothmann, who provided it to the Frankfurt court for Broad’s trial. Examined during the trial under oath, Rothmann declared that Broad had written it by himself, and that the report roughly covered what Broad had told him in person.380

    Broad admitted, after some hesitation, that the report was his.

    Presiding Judge: “Accused Broad, what do you say about the document that has just been read.”
    Broad: “Without hesitation I recognize some parts as my own notes, but not the whole document.”
    Presiding Judge: “You had in Auschwitz much knowledge about what happened there.”
    Broad: “Yes, I had much knowledge.”
    Presiding Judge: “You expressed at the time, that it concerned a crime.”
    Broad: “That is also my conviction today. Every act in Auschwitz aided and abetted that. I believe there are more versions of this report. It seems to me there is much unfamiliar knowledge in this report.”
    Presiding Judge: “The report is written in one style and it is homogeneous in character. Does it not seem that it was written by one man, that means by you?”
    Broad: “Yes, that is right. I only do not know the source of the numbers mentioned. That I could not know.”381

    The Broad report, which was of independent origin, corroborated important elements of the picture that had begun to emerge in Sehn’s investigation, and added important new descriptions. Perhaps most important was Broad’s recollection of the first gassings in crematorium 1, which was located adjacent to his own office in the barrack that housed the camp’s Political Department.

    From the first company of the SS-Totenkopfsturmbannes, stationed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, SS-Hauptscharführer Vaupel selected six particularly trustworthy men. Among them were those who had been members of the black General SS for years. They had to report to SS-Hauptscharführer Hössler. After their arrival Hössler cautioned them to preserve the utmost secrecy as to what they would see in the next few minutes. Otherwise death would be their lot.

    The task of the six men was to keep all roads and streets completely closed around the area near the Auschwitz crematorium. Nobody should be allowed to pass there, regardless of rank. The offices in the building from which the crematorium was visible were evacuated. No inmate of the SS garrison hospital was allowed to come near the windows of the first floor which looked onto the roof of the nearby crematorium and the yard of that gloomy place.

    Everything was made ready and Hössler himself made sure that no uncalled-for persons would enter the closed area. Then a sad procession walked along the streets of the camp. It had started at the railway siding, located between the garrison storehouse and the German Armaments Factory (the siding branched off from the main railway line, which led to the camp). There, at the ramp, cattle vans were being unloaded, and people who had arrived in them were slowly marching towards their unknown destination. All of them had large, yellow Jewish stars on their miserable clothes. Their worn faces showed that they had suffered many a hardship. The majority were elderly people. From their conversation one could gather that up to their unexpected transportation they had been employed in factories, that they were willing to go on working and to be as useful as they could. A few guards without guns, but with pistols well hidden in their pockets, escorted the procession to the crematorium. The SS-men promised the people, who were beginning to feel more hopeful, that they would be employed at suitable work, according to their preoccupations. Explicit instructions how to behave were given the SS-men by Hössler.Previously the guards had always treated new arrivals very roughly, trying with blows to make them stand in ranks “at arm’s length,” but there were no uncivil words just now! The more fiendish the whole plan!

    Both sides of the big entrance gate to the crematorium were wide open. Suspecting nothing the column marched in, in lines of five persons, and stood in the yard. There were three or four hundred of them. Somewhat nervously the SS guard at the entrance waited for the last man to enter the yard. Quickly he shut the gate and bolted it. Grabner and Hössler were standing on the roof of the crematorium. Grabner spoke to the Jews, who unsuspectingly awaited their fate, “You will now bathe and be disinfected, we don’t want any epidemics in the camp. Then you will be brought to your barracks, where you’ll get some hot soup. You will be employed in accordance with your professional qualifications. Now undress and put your clothes in front of you on the ground.”

    They willingly followed these instructions, given them in a friendly, warm-hearted voice. Some looked forward to the soup, others were glad that the nerve-racking uncertainty as to their immediate future was over and that their worst expectations were not realized. All felt relieved after their days full of anxiety.

    Grabner and Hössler continued from the roof to give friendly advice, which had a calming effect upon the people. “Put your shoes close to your clothes bundle, so that you can find them after the bath.” “Is the water warm? Of course, warm showers.” “What is your trade? A shoemaker? We need them urgently. Report to me immediately after!”

    Such words dispelled any last doubts or lingering suspicions. The first lines entered the mortuary through the hall. Everything was extremely tidy. But the special smell made some of them uneasy. They looked in vain for showers or water pipes fixed to the ceiling. The hall meanwhile was getting packed.S everal SS-men had entered with them, full of jokes and small talk. They unobtrusively kept their eyes on the entrance. As soon as the last person had entered they disappeared without much ado. Suddenly the door was closed. It had been made tight with rubber and secured with iron fittings. Those inside heard the heavy bolts being secured. They were screwed to with screws, making the door air-tight. A deadly paralyzing terror spread among the victims. They started to beat upon the door, in helpless rage and despair they hammered on it with their fists. Derisive laughter was their only reply. Somebody shouted through the door, “Don’t get burned, while you make your bath!” Several victims noticed that covers had been removed from the six holes in the ceiling. They uttered a loud cry of terror when they saw a head in a gas mask at one opening. The “disinfectors” were at work. One of them was SS-Unterscharführer Teuer, decorated with the Cross of War Merit. With a chisel and a hammer they opened a few innocuous-looking tins which bore the inscription “Cyclon,to be used against vermin. Attention, poison! To be opened by trained personnel only!” The tins were filled to the brim with blue granules the size of peas.

    Immediately after opening the tins, their contents was thrown into the holes which were quickly covered.

    Meanwhile Grabner gave a sign to the driver of a lorry, which had stopped close to the crematorium. The driver started the engine and its deafening noise was louder than the death cries of the hundreds of people inside, being gassed to death. Grabner looked with the interest of a scientist at the second hand of his wrist watch. Cyclon acted swiftly. It consists of hydrocyanic acid in solid form. As soon as the tin was emptied, the prussic acid escaped from the granules. One of the men, who participated in the bestial gassing, could not refrain from lifting, for a fraction of a second, the cover of one of the vents and from spitting into the hall. Some two minutes later the screams became less loud and only an indistinct groaning was heard. The majority of the victims had already lost consciousness. Two minutes more and Grabner stopped looking at his watch.

    It was over. There was complete silence. The lorry had driven away. The guards were called off, and the cleaning squad started to sort out the clothes, sotidily put down in the yard of the crematorium.

    Busy SS-men and civilians working in the camp were again passing the mound, on whose artificial slopes young trees swayed peacefully in the wind. Very few knew what terrible event had taken place there only a few minutes before and what sight the mortuary below the greenery would present.

    Some time later, when the ventilators had extracted the gas, the prisoners working in the crematorium opened the door to the mortuary. The corpses, their mouths wide open, were leaning on one another. They were especially closely packed near to the door, where in their deadly fright they had crowded to force it. The prisoners of the crematorium squad worked like robots, apathetically and without a trace of emotion. It was difficult to tug the corpses from the mortuary, as their twisted limbs had grown stiff with the gas. Thick smoke clouds poured from the chimney.–This is how it began in 1942!382

    Broad’s testimony was important, but as any observer will notice, not without its problems. He showed some literary ambition in his account, and his flowery and sentimental descriptions clashed with the evidentiary import of his recollections.

    According to Broad, the main motivation to build the four new crematoria in Birkenau was the difficulties the Germans had in keeping the killings at bunkers 1 and 2 secret. The inhabitants of Wola, located at the opposite shore of the Vistula, had been able to observe the proceedings.

    Thanks to the bright flames from the pits, where corpses were continually burnt, they could see the processions of naked people from the barracks, where they had undressed, to the gas chambers. They heard the cries of the people, brutally beaten because they did not want to enter the chambers of death; they also heard the shots which finished off those who could not be squeezed into the gas chambers, which were not roomy enough.383

    The burning pyres produced a terrible stench and coloured the sky red at night.

    [I]t was by reason of the unmistakable sweet smell and the nightly flames that the neighbourhood of Auschwitz learnt about the goings-on in the camp of death. Railwaymen used to tell the civilian population how thousands were being brought to Auschwitz every day, and yet the camp was not growing larger at a corresponding rate. The same information was supplied by police escorts of the transports. The result was that a party speaker, when making his speech in the town of Auschwitz, had to retreat as most of the audience was hostile.384

    The completion of four new crematoria, which ended the need to incinerate the corpses on large pyres, allowed the Germans to restore secrecy.

    Two of them had underground gas chambers, in each of which 4,000 people could be killed at the same time. The other two smaller crematoria had two gas chambers partitioned into three sections, built on the ground floors. In each of these death factories there was an immense hall where “evacuees” had to undress. The halls of crematoria I [2] and II [3] were also underground. Stone stairs, about two metres wide, led down to them. Crematoria I [2] and II [3] had fifteen ovens each, and each oven was equipped to hold four or five corpses.385

    But even the large crematoria could not keep the murders secret. Remarkably enough, Broad credited the architects with one very peculiar leak.

    The building section of the Auschwitz concentration camp was so proud of their achievements that they placed a series of pictures of the crematoria in the hall of their main building for everybody to see. They had overlooked the fact that the civilians, coming and going there, would be less impressed with the technological achievements of the building section; on seeing the enlarged photos of fifteen ovens, neatly arranged side by side, they would, instead, be rather apt to ponder on the somewhat strange invention of the Third Reich. Grabner soon took care to quash the bizarre publicity. But he could not prevent the numerous civilian workers, employed by the building section to construct the crematoria, from talking to outsiders about the construction plans, with which they were naturally thoroughly acquainted.386

    Working in an administrative capacity in the Political Department of the camp (the in-house Gestapo office), Broad gave some valuable information regarding record keeping.

    When information was requested by the Reich Main Security Office concerning 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. The person asked for “is not and never has been detained in camp,” or “he is not in the files”–these were the usual formulas given in reply. At present, after the evacuation of Auschwitz and the burning of all papers and records, the fate of millions of people is completely obscure. No transport or arrival lists are in existence any more.387

    Broad was called as one of the witnesses in the trial of Bruno Tesch, Joachim Drosihn and Karl Weinbacher. Tesch had been the owner of the firm of Tesch and Stabenow, which had supplied Zyklon B–the commercially sold fumigation product that had hydrogen cyanide as its active agent–to Auschwitz and other camps; Weinbacher had been a manager in the firm and Droshin the chief technician. According to the indictment, the defendants had known since 1942 that Zyklon B was used not only for its normal fumigation purposes, but also to kill human beings. Nevertheless Tesch and his subordinates had continued to supply the product. According to the prosecution, “knowingly to supply a commodity to a branch of state which is using that commodity for the mass murder of Allied civilian nationals is a war crime, and the people who did it were war criminals for putting the means to commit the actual crime into the hands of those who actually carried it out.”388

    During the trial, Broad testified on behalf of the prosecution. He testified that he had witnessed a gassing at crematorium 1 at some 40 to 45 meters distance.

    Q.: “Will you tell us what you saw in connection with exterminations at the old crematorium?
    A.: “The installation at the crematorium was the following. The roof was plain, and there were six holes of the diameter of ten centimetres. Through these holes, after the tins had been opened, the gas was poured in.”
    Q.: “How many people were they putting in at a time in the old crematorium?”
    A.: “At the time when I observed it,there were about 300 or 400 or there might have been even 500.”
    Q.: “How long did the gassing take to finish the 500 off?”
    A.: “One could hear the screaming of the people who were killed in the crematorium for about two or three minutes.”
    Q.: “Did you later get to know more about the gassing operations?”
    A.: “Yes; later on I got to know the name of that particular gas; it was Zyklon.”
    Q.: “Did you ever see any gassings at the new crematoriums at Birkenau?”
    A.: “I have seen those gassing actions from a rather bigger distance.”
    Q.: “At Birkenau?”
    A.: “Yes.”
    Q.: “How many gas crematoriums were there at Birkenau?”
    A.: “There were four crematoriums at Birkenau.”
    Q.: “How many people a day were they gassing at Birkenau?”
    A.: “In the months of March and April 1944 about 10,000.”
    Q.: “Per day?”
    A.: “Yes, per day.”389

    Broad was asked to identify the labels of the Zyklon B cans, and then to explain who were the victims. He estimated the total number of victims between 2.5 and 3 million. Then he described the gassing and incineration procedures at the crematoria, and the renewed use of pyres in 1944 when the killing exceeded the incineration capacity of the ovens.

    Q.: Who were the men who actually did the gassing?What type of man was that in the camp?”
    A.: “They were called disinfectors.”
    Q.: “Will you tell us about these disinfectors shortly?”
    A.: “They were under the orders of the doctor and their duties comprised, apart from killing human beings, also the disinfection and the delousing of the internees’ clothes.”
    Q.: “How was that delousing and disinfection carried out?”
    A.: “In airtight rooms. The clothing was dealt with in the same way as the human beings.”
    Q.: “Will you look at this extract from this report and tell me if you know anything about it? Who wrote that report, which is set out there in inverted commas?”
    A.: “I myself.”
    Q.: “The disinfectors are at work …With an iron rod and hammer they open a couple of harmless looking tin boxes, the directions read ‘Cyclon [sic], vermin destroyer, Warning, Poisonous. ‘The boxes are filled with small pellets which look like blue peas. As soon as the box is opened the contents are shaken out through an aperture in the roof. Then another box is emptied in the next aperture, and so on. And in each case the cover is carefully replaced on the aperture….Cyclon works quickly, it consists of a cyanic compound in a modified form. When the pellets are shaken out of the box they give off prussic acid gas (Blausauregas)…. After about two minutes the shrieks die down and change to a low moaning. Most of the men have already lost consciousness. After a further two minutes …It is all over. Deadly quiet reigns…. The corpses are piled together,their mouths stretched open….It is difficult to heave the interlaced corpses out of the chamber as the gas is stiffening all their limbs. Is that based on your experience?”
    A.: “Yes.”390

    The Kremer Diary and the Broad Report were available to researchers of Auschwitz since their discovery or compilation in 1945. A third, and important document, created in the summer of 1945, was to remain hidden in the Public Record Office until it was released for study in 1992. Ironically, the first to see them was David Irving.391 Irving, however, initially chose not to go public with his discovery of the five accounts about Auschwitz created shortly after the war by Höss’s one-time deputy Hans Aumeier. Seeking to make the best from a very bad situation, he buried a reference to Aumeier’s statement in a footnote in his 1996 book on the Nuremberg Trials.392

    SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Hans Aumeier became in early 1942 Lagerführer (Camp Leader)of Auschwitz, and as such he was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Schutzhaftlager (literally “Protective Custody Camp”), the inmate compound of the concentration camp. He remained in function until the end of that year, and therefore oversaw the transformation of Auschwitz from a “normal” concentration camp into a camp that, amongst other functions, also served as an extermination camp for Jews. Aumeier was not very effective, and in early 1943 he was transferred to run a concentration camp in Estonia.393 Finally he ended up running a concentration camp in Norway. Arrested after the German capitulation in May 1945, he was initially interrogated in Norway. In a first account written by Aumeier, dated June 29, 1945, he stated that during his tenure as Lagerführer 3,000 to 3,500 prisoners died in Auschwitz. He denied knowledge about gas chambers.394

    A month later, Aumeier admitted that gas chambers had been in operation in Auschwitz, and that they were used for the killing of Jews.

    As far as I can remember, the first gassings of some 50 to 80 Jewish prisoners took place in the month of November or December 1942.395 This happened in the morgue of the crematorium in camp I [crematorium 1], under supervision of the camp doctor, of Untersturmführer Grabner, the camp commandant, and various medical orderlies. I was not present at that time, and also did not know beforehand that this gassing was going to take place. The camp commandant always remained distrustful towards me, and did not tell me much. Only the next day did the camp doctor, Grabner, Obersturmführer H[öss]ler, Haupsturmführer Schwarz and I have to go to the camp commandant, and he told us that he had received via the Reich Security Main Office the order of the Reichsführer SS that, in order to prevent further epidemics, all Jewish prisoners incapable of work, and all ill inmates, who in the opinion of the doctor could not be brought back to work, ought to be gassed. He further told us that in the preceding night the first inmates had been gassed, but that the crematorium was too small and could not handle the incineration of the corpses, and that therefore in the new crematorium in Birkenau also gas chambers were to be built.

    We were all very shocked and upset, but he added that the whole affair was a secret Reich matter, and that because of our oath of allegiance we would be condemned to death by the Reichsführer SS if we were to talk about it to others. We had to sign a declaration to this effect, which was given for safekeeping by the camp commandant. All the men who later had something to do with the commando were instructed by Untersturmführer Grabner, and also had to sign such a declaration in his presence.

    In the time that followed some three to four gassings were undertaken in the old crematorium. These always occurred in the evening hours. In the morgue were two to three air vents and medical orderlies, wearing gas masks, shook blue [cyanide ] gas into these. We were not allowed to come close, and only the next day the bunker [gas chamber] was opened. The doctor told that the people died within half a minute to a minute.

    In the meantime in Birkenau, close to the burial sites, two empty houses were equipped by the construction office with gas chambers. One house had two chambers, the other four. These houses were designated as bunkers 1 and 2. Each chamber accommodated about 50 to 150 people. At the end of January or February, the first gassings were undertaken The Kommando was called SK [Sonderkommando],and the camp commandant had put it under direct authority of Untersturmführer Grabner and was again led and brought into action by […] H[öss ]ler. The area was surrounded by notices and marked as a security zone, and moreover encircled by a eight guard posts from the Kommando.

    From that moment onwards the camp doctors sorted from the arriving transports immediately the inmates, and those who were destined to be gassed. They had instructions to select for gassing those crippled by illness, those over 55 years of age who could not work, and children up to 11 or 12 years.396


    Near bunkers 1 and 2 two barracks were built, and in this one inmates had to undress, and there they were told that they were to be deloused and bathed. Then they were brought to the chambers. Air vents were set in the side walls of these chambers.

    In the same manner as described above, gassings took place under control of the doctor. The bunker was always opened the next day. On the next day gold teeth would be broken out of the corpses under supervision of a dentist or a medical orderly, and after that the corpses were burned in trenches in a manner described above.

    At the same time doctors also selected seriously ill Jewish prisoners in the sick wards of the camp, and from time to time led to the gassing. It must have been around the middle of April 1943 that crematorium I [2] in Birkenau was completed and brought into operation. In the basement of the crematorium (I believe it had eight ovens)had been built a concrete bunker that had place for between 600 to 800 people. In front of the crematorium was also built a hut for undressing.397

    Gassing occurred likewise through air vents from above. The Bunker had a system to introduce fresh air, so that after gassings the bunker could be opened after five to eight hours.398 The corpses were then brought with an elevator directly to the ovens for incineration.

    Additionally it is worth to mention that valuables were taken from the Jews and were sent by the administration to the SS-Wirtschafts-verwaltungshauptamt. After delousing, the clothes were partly issued in the [Auschwitz] camps, and partly sent to other camps.

    At the beginning of May 1943 crematorium II (5 ovens)was completed and alternately gassings also took place there.Its gas chamber was smaller and held perhaps 400 to 500 people. It did not have a system to bring in fresh air, and gassings happened by means of air vents in the side walls.399

    At the time of my transfer crematorium III was still under construction and not ready. It was roughly planned on the same model as crematorium II (5 ovens).400

    My estimate is that during my tenure between 15,000 and 18,000 Jewish prisoners were gassed.401

    Aumeier’s statement is important. While there are many errors, especially as it concerns dates or the number of Jews gassed, he is basically correct in his description of bunkers 1 and 2, and the gas chambers in crematorium 2 and 4. Less detailed, Aumeier’s confession provide important independent corroboration of Broad’s account, the statements made in Poland by surviving Sonderkommandos, and the forensic investigations done by Roman Dawidowski. Aumeier was to further elaborate on his statement in the months that followed, providing more details about the gassing operation. In these statements he stressed again, at various occasions, that “there was a Reichsführer-SS order to this effect which banned all written reports, counts, statistics, or the like in this context,”402 or “no lists were kept of those gassed and those were also not recorded by name from the transports. As already mentioned, it was forbidden to make notes or lists about it.”403

    Both Kremer’s diary, Broad’s report, and Aumeier’s explanations provided in the months immediately after the end of the war in Europe important additional evidence about the history of Auschwitz as an extermination camp. Yet the immediate impact of these documents was small. This was different with the so-called Belsen Trial, held by a British Military Tribunal in the fall of 1945 in the German city of Lüneburg to try the captured SS personnel of Bergen Belsen. It did not merely generate valuable evidence, but also focussed attention on Auschwitz, as most of the defendants had, at one time or another, worked in Auschwitz before being transferred to Bergen-Belsen. Kommandant Josef Kramer, for example, had also served as Lagerführer of Birkenau during the Hungarian Action. Hence there were two distinct charges upon which the accused were arraigned. The first concerned the criminal and inexcusable neglect that characterized the SS’ rule in Belsen, and the second focussed on the carefully designed and executed policy of extermination in Auschwitz.

    the opening speech for the prosecution, Colonel T. M. Backhouse stated that he was to provide evidence to show that the conditions in Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz were caused not only by criminal neglect, but also “that they were caused by deliberate starvation and ill-treatment, with the malicious knowledge that they must cause death.”

    In respect of Auschwitz I will go further and say that not only will the Prosecution ask you to say that it was done with deliberate knowledge that the conditions would cause death, but that there was deliberate killing of thousands and probably millions of people, quite deliberate cold-blooded extermination of millions of people in that camp, and that each of the accused who was serving at Auschwitz and is charged in the second charge had his or her share in this joint endeavour in this group of persons who were carrying out this policy of deliberate extermination.404

    The first witness for the prosecution to testify on the conditions in Auschwitz was the Polish-Jewish physician Dr. Ada Bimko. She arrived in Auschwitz in August 1943 with 5,000 other Jews from Sosnowitz. Of this transport, 4,500 were sent directly to the crematorium. “My father, mother, brother, husband and small son of six years of age were included in that number.”405

    [Colonel Backhouse]: “After that date did you attend any other selections of this kind?”
    A.: “Yes. I was working as a doctor in the hospital and was present at several selections. The first of these happened on the day of the greatest feast of the Jews, the Day of Atonement. There were three methods of selection. The first one immediately on the arrival of the prisoners; the second in the camp among the healthy prisoners; and the third in the hospital amongst the sick. The camp doctor was always present and other S.S. men and S.S. women.406

    Dr. Bimko testified that she seen one of the gas chambers. In her original deposition, she discussed the circumstances that made the visit possible.

    In the Birkenau section of Auschwitz Camp there were five brick buildings. These five buildings were similar in appearance and different from all the other buildings in the camp. They were commonly known by all the prisoners in the camp as crematoria.407 When selections were held I saw the condemned persons driven to these buildings in lorries. I did not see the persons actually enter the buildings as it was not possible to get sufficiently close to do so. Both men and women were in the parties taken to these buildings. Usually the condemned women were ordered to undress and leave their clothes behind in Block 25, and sometimes they undressed at the gas chamber. Occasionally they were allowed to take blankets with them to the gas chamber, but this was all according to the S.S. Man in charge. Hospital blankets were used for this purpose. The crematorium and gas chambers were in an area of the camp known as Brzezinki.408

    Attached to the hospital in the women’s camp, Dr. Bimko was responsible for recovering the blankets which the naked prisoners used after having undressed in Block 25, the holding pen in the women’s camp for those selected for the gas chambers. During the trial, she explained how this brought her into the crematoria.

    Q.: “Have you ever been into one of the gas chambers?”
    A.: “Yes. In August,1944. I was working in a portion of the camp as a doctor. A new crowd of those selected for the gas chamber had arrived, and as they were sick they came covered with a blanket. After two days we were told to fetch all those blankets from the gas chamber. I took the opportunity, as I always wanted to see with my own eyes this ill-famed gas chamber, and I went in. It was a brick building and there were trees around in a way as if it were camouflaged. In the first room I met a men who came from the same town as I do. There was also an S.S. man with a rank of Unterscharführer, and he belonged to the Red Cross. I was told that in this first big room the people left their clothes, and from this room were led onto a second, and I gained the impression that hundreds and hundreds might go into this room, it was so large. It resembled the shower-baths or ablution rooms we had in the camp. There were many sprays all over the ceiling in rows which were parallel. All these people who went into this room were issued with a towel and a cake of soap so that they should have the impression that they were going to have a bath, but for anybody who looked at the floor it was quite clear that it was not so, because there were no drains. In this room there was a small door which opened to a room which was pitch dark and looked like a corridor. I saw a few lines of rails with a small wagon which they called a lorry, and I was told that prisoners who were already gassed were put on these wagons and sent directly to the crematorium. I believe the crematorium was in the same building, but I myself did not see the stove.409

    One of the other witnesses for the prosecution was Dr. Charles Sigismund Bendel, a Rumanian Jewish physician living in Paris. Arrested in November 1943, he had been taken first to the transit camp at Drancy, and from there to Auschwitz. At the end of February,1944,Bendel was detailed as a doctor to the Gipsy camp in Birkenau, where he witnessed Dr. Mengele’s medical experiments on twins.

    [Colonel T. M. Backhouse]: “In June, 1944, was your employment changed?”
    [Bendel]: “Indeed, it was changed. Dr.Mengele gave me the honour to attach me to the crematorium. The men who worked there were called Sonderkommando, a Special Kommando numbering 900. They were all deported people. Just as there existed a Sonderkommando amongst the prisoners so there was a Sonderkommando also amongst the S. S. They enjoyed special privileges, for instance, in alcohol, and were completely separated from the other S.S. There were about fifteen S.S. in this Sonderkommando, three for each crematorium. The prisoners amongst the Sonderkommando lived in the camp in two blocks which were always locked, and were not allowed to leave them. Some of S.S. of the Sonderkommando were on night duties and others did their duty in rotas. They were always relieved by the others. At first I lived in the camp with the other prisoners, but later on in the crematorium itself. The first time I started work there was in August, 1944. No one was gassed on that occasion, but 150 political prisoners, Russians and Poles, were led one by one to the graves and there they were shot. Two days later, when I was attached to the day group, I saw a gas chamber in action. On that occasion it was the ghetto at Lodz–80,000 people were gassed.
    Q.: “Would you describe just what happened that day?”
    A.: “I came at seven o ‘clock in the morning with the others and saw white smoke still rising from the trenches, which indicated that a whole transport had been liquidated or finished off during the night. In Crematorium No.4 the result which was achieved by burning was apparently not sufficient. The work was not going on quickly enough, so behind the crematorium they dug three large trenches 12 metres long and 6 metres wide. After a bit it was found that the results achieved even in these three big trenches were not quick enough, so in the middle of these big trenches they built two canals through which the human fat or grease should seep so that work could be continued in a quicker way. The capacity of these trenches was almost fantastic. Crematorium No.4 was able to burn 1000 people during the day, but this system of trenches was able to deal with the same number in one hour.”
    Q.: “Will you describe the day’s work?”
    A.: “At eleven o’clock in the morning the chief of the Political Department arrived on his motor cycle to tell us, as always, that a new transport had arrived. The trenches which I described before had to be prepared. They had to be cleaned out. Wood had to be put in and petrol sprayed over so that it would burn quicker. About twelve o’clock the new transport arrived, consisting of some 800 to 1000 people. These people had to undress themselves in the court of the crematorium and were promised a bath and hot coffee afterwards. They were given orders to put their things on one side and all the valuables on the other. Then they entered a big hall and were told to wait until the gas arrived. Five or ten minutes later the gas arrived, and the strongest insult to a doctor and to the idea of the Red Cross was that it came in a Red Cross ambulance. Then the door was opened and the people were crowded into the gas chambers which gave the impression that the roof was falling on their heads, as it was so low. With blows from different kinds of sticks they were forced to go in and stay there, because when they realized that they were going to their death they tried to come out again. Finally, they succeeded in locking the doors. One heard cries and shouts and they started to fight against each other, knocking on the walls. This went on for two minutes and then there was complete silence. Five minutes later the doors were opened, but it was quite impossible to go in for another twenty minutes. Then the Special Kommandos started work. When the doors were opened a crowd of bodies fell out because they were compressed so much. They were quite contracted, and it was almost impossible to separate one from the other. One got the impression that they fought terribly against death. Anybody who has ever seen a gas chamber filled to the height of one and a half metres with corpses will never forget it. At this moment the proper work of the Sonderkommandos starts. They have to drag out the bodies which are still warm and covered with blood, but before they are thrown into the ditches they have still to pass through the hands of the barber and the dentist, because the barber cuts the hair off and the dentist has to take out all the teeth. Now it is proper hell which is starting. The Sonderkommando tries to work as fast as possible. They drag the corpses by their wrists in furious haste. People who had human faces before, I cannot recognize again. They are like devils. A barrister from Salonica, an electrical engineer from Budapest–they are no longer human beings because, even during the work, blows from sticks and rubber truncheons are being showered over them. During the time this is going on they continue to shoot people in front of these ditches, people who could not be got into the gas chambers because they were overcrowded. After an hour and a half the whole work has been done and a new transport has been dealt with in Crematorium No.4.410

    Cross-examined by Captain L. S. W. Cranfield, one of lawyers for the defence, Bendel gave more details about the arrival procedures of the selected deportees at the crematoria.

    [Cranfield]: “When a party arrived for the gas chamber, was it brought down by one of the doctors?”
    A.: “No. There was one S.S. In front and one at the back. That is all.”
    Q.: “Did these parties usually arrive in trucks?”
    A.: “It varied–some prisoners arrived marching; on the other hand, sick people arrived in trucks. These trucks were so constructed that they could be tipped over, and the drivers found amusement in doing so, and throwing the people out.”411

    Perhaps the most important witness was the Kommandant of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer. Initially, during the pre-trial interrogations, the former Lagerführer of Birkenau had maintained that there had been no gas chambers in Auschwitz.

    I have heard of the allegations of former prisoners in Auschwitz referring to a gas chamber there, the mass executions and whippings, the cruelty of the guards employed, and that all this took place either in my presence or with my knowledge. All I can say to all this that it is untrue from beginning to end.412

    Yet he changed his story when the prosecution was able to present him with proof that he had constructed and operated during his tenure as Kommandant of the camp at Natzweiler-Struthof a gas chamber. Confronted with this material, Kramer decided that it was better to confess to the existence of gas chambers in both Natzweiler-Struthof and Auschwitz, but to deny any direct responsibility. In the case of Auschwitz, where he served as Lagerführer of Birkenau, his denial of direct authority over the crematoria was, probably, justified. The crematoria were located outside the prisoner compound, and were under the direct responsibility of the Political Department and the Kommandant.

    The first time I saw a gas chamber proper was at Auschwitz. It was attached to the crematorium. The complete building containing the crematorium and gas chamber was situated in camp No.2 (Birkenau),of which I was in command. I visited the building on my first inspection of the camp after being there for three days, but for the first eight days I was there it was not working. After eight days the first transport, from which gas chamber victims were selected, arrived, and at that time I received a written order from Hoess, who commanded the whole of Auschwitz camp, that although the gas chamber and crematorium were situated in my part of the camp, I had no jurisdiction over it whatever. Orders in regard to the gas chamber were, in fact, always given by Hoess, and I am firmly convinced that he received such orders from Berlin. I believe that had I been in Hoess’s position and received such orders, I would have carried them out, because even if I had protested it would only have resulted in my being taken prisoner myself. My feelings about orders in regard to the gas chamber were to be slightly surprised, and wonder to myself whether such action was really right.413

    Kramer testified on Monday, October 8. Major T.C.M.Winwood, his counsel, first examined the discrepancy between Kramer’s two depositions.

    Q.: “Will you explain to the Court how it is that, in the first statement you made, you said the allegations referring to gas chambers, mass executions, whipping and cruelty were untrue, whereas in your second statement you said they were true?”
    A.: “There are two reasons for that. The first is that in the first statement I was told that the prisoners alleged that these gas chambers were under my command, and the second and main reason was that Pohl, who spoke to me, took my word of honour that I should be silent and should not tell anybody at all about the existence of the gas chambers. When I made my first statement I felt still bound by this word of honour which I had given. When I made the second statement in prison, in Celle, these persons to whom I felt bound in honour–Adolf Hitler and Reichsführer Himmler–were no longer alive and I thought then that I was no longer bound.”414

    During cross-examination, Colonel Backhouse once more confronted Kramer with the issue of the conflicting statements.

    Q.: “Do you believe in God?”
    A.: “Yes.”
    Q.: “You remember the oath which you took when you first went into the witness box. Do you realize that to lie after you have taken that oath is deliberate perjury?”
    A.: “Yes.”
    Q.: “In the first statement you made at Diest did you make precisely the same oath before you signed your statement?”
    A.: “I am not sure whether it was before or after.”
    Q.: “I put it to you that you took precisely the same oath that you took in this court before you made your statement and that you lied and knew you were lying when you made that statement in which you said that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz at all?”
    A.: “I have already said that, at that time, I felt still bound to my word of honour on that subject.”415

    Examined by his counsel, Kramer gave a description of whom was responsible for what, carefully distancing himself from the whole issue.

    Q.: “Did Kommandant Hoess say anything to you about the gas chambers?”
    A.: “I received a written order from him that I had nothing to do with either the gas chambers or the incoming transports. The Political Department which was in every camp had a card index system of prisoners and was responsible for personal documents and for any sort of prisoners and was responsible for personal documents and for any sort of transports or incoming prisoners. At Auschwitz the Political Department was also responsible for all the selections from incoming transports for the gas chamber. In the crematorium the S.S. And prisoners -Sonderkommando -were under the command of the Kommandant of Auschwitz,Hoess.As the place where transports generally arrived was in the middle of my own camp I was sometimes present at their arrival. The people who took part in supervising and who were responsible for the security were partly from Auschwitz No.1, and partly from my own camp at Birkenau, but the selection of these people who had to supervise was done by the Kommandant of Auschwitz No.1. The actual selection of the internees were made only by the doctors. Those who were selected for the gas chambers went to the different crematoria, those who were found to be fit for work came into two different parts of my camp, because the idea was that in a few days they were to be re-transferred to different parts of Germany for work.”
    Q.: “Did you yourself ever take part in the selections?”
    A.: “No, I never took part, nor did the other S.S. members of my staff. I do not know exactly who the doctors got their orders from, but I think it was probably from Dr. Wirths, the senior doctor of the camp. The doctors lived together in Auschwitz No.1 where the headquarters were.”
    Q.: “What did you personally think about the whole gas chamber business?”
    A.: “I asked myself, ‘Is it really right about these persons who go to the gas chambers, and whether that person who signed for the first time these orders will be able to answer for it?’ I did not know what the purpose of the gas chamber was.”416

    Mrs. Rosina Kramer testified on behalf of the defence of her husband. During crossexamination, Colonel Backhouse raised the issue of the gassings.

    Q.: “You said that Hoess had been sent to Auschwitz for the incoming transports. What transports were these?”
    A.: “I believe these were the transports which were destined for the gas chambers.”
    Q.: “You know about the gas chambers, then?”
    A.: “Everybody in Auschwitz knew about them.”417

    One of the main defendants was Dr. Fritz Klein, an ethnic German from Rumania who had been drafted into the SS. As a physician, he participated in many selections. In his initial deposition he gave a very concise description of his responsibility, or lack thereof.

    When transports arrived at Auschwitz it was the doctor’s job to pick out those who were unfit or unable to work. These included children, old people and the sick. I have seen the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz, and I knew that those I selected were to go to the gas chamber. But I only acted on orders given me by Dr. Wirths. I cannot say from whom Dr. Wirths received his orders and I have never seen any orders in writing relating to the gassing of prisoners. All orders given to me were given verbally.418

    Examined by his counsel Major Winwood, Dr. Klein discussed the selection in greater detail.

    Q.: “Will you tell us what happened on selections?”
    A.: “Dr. Wirths, when the first transport arrived, gave me orders to divide it into two parts, those who were fit to work and those who were not fit, that is those who, because of their age, could not work, who were too weak, whose health was not very good, and also children up to the age of fifteen. The selecting was done exclusively by doctors. One looked at the person and, if she looked ill, asked a few questions, but if the person was healthy then it was decided immediately.”
    Q.: “What happened to those people who were selected as capable of work?”
    A.: “The doctor had only to make the decision. What happened to them afterwards was nothing to do with him.”
    Q.: “What happened to those people whom the doctors selected as unfit for work?”
    A.: “The doctor had to make a selection but had no influence on what was going to happen. I have heard, and I know, that part of them were sent to the gas chambers and the crematoria.419

    Later on Klein admitted that he had visited a gas chamber when not in operation. Asked his opinion about “this gas chamber business,” he answered that he did not approve, and added “I did no protest because that was no use at all.”420

    The third important defendant was Franz Hoessler, who in 1944 had served as Lagerführer at Auschwitz I. In his deposition he admitted to the existence and use of the gas chambers.

    Everyone in the camp knew about the gas chamber at Auschwitz, but at no time did I take part in the selection of prisoners who were to go to the gas chamber and then be cremated. Whilst I was there selection of prisoners for the gas chamber was done by Dr. Klein, Dr. Mengele and other young doctors whose names I do not know. I have attended these parades, but my job was merely to keep order. Often women were paraded naked in front of the doctors and persons selected by the doctors were sent to the gas chamber. I learnt this through conversation with the doctors. I think those selected were mostly those who were not in good health and could not work. When transports of prisoners arrived the prisoners were taken from the train and marched to the camp. On arrival they were paraded in front of the doctors I have mentioned, and persons were selected for the gas chamber, the remainder being sent to the concentration camp. I have also attended these parades, but only when I have been Orderly Lagerführer, as this was part of his duties. Train-loads of 2000 and 3000 arrived at the camp and often as many as 800 went to the gas chamber. The doctors were always responsible for these selections.

    Whilst I was at Auschwitz the Kommandant, until June, 1944, was Hoess and he was succeeded by Baer. I made many complaints to Hoess about the way people were being sent to the gas chamber, but I was told it was not my business. The camp was inspected once a year by Himmler and also Obergruppenführer Glücks and Obergruppenführer Pohl from Berlin.

    Himmler knew people at Auschwitz were gassed because it was he who gave the orders that this would be done. These orders could only have come from the top. Hitler must also have known that this was going on as he was the head of the country.421

    Examined by his counsel Major A.S.Munro, Hoessler went into greater detail.

    Q.: “Did you have to attend selections for the gas chambers?”
    A.: “Yes, I attended these selections because I had to guard the prisoners. I did not make selections myself, and there were no selections without doctors.”
    Q.: “What did you think when you were told to attend a selection parade for the first time?”
    A.: “When they told me for the first time, in summer 1943,I did not know even what it meant. I only thought I had to see that the people got out of their wagons and came into the camp.”
    Q.: “Did you later learn the real purpose of these parades?”
    A.: “Yes, I heard about it and did not think that that was right. Once when Hoess arrived in his car I asked him if it was all right what was going on, and he just told me to do my duty. I received the order to go on selection parade personally and verbally from Hoess.”
    Q.: “Will you explain exactly what happened when transports arrived in the camp?”
    A.: “The transport train arrived at the platform in the camp. It was my duty to guard the unloading of the train and to put the S.S. sentries like a chain around the transport. The next job was to divide the prisoners into two groups,the women to the left, the men to the right. Then the doctors arrived, and they selected the people. The people who had been inspected by the doctors and found to be fit for work were put on one side, the men and the women. The people who were found to be unfit for work had to go into the trucks, and they were driven off in the direction of the crematorium.”422

    Within the difficult circumstances of the time, the Belsen Trial was conducted with due regard to proper procedure. Some of the court-appointed defenders put up a spirited fight. For example, Major T.C.M. Winwood, counsel for Kramer, argued that really Heinrich Himmler was responsible, and that if anyone deserved the epithet “Beast of Belsen” it was the Reichsführer-SS, and not Kramer who had the misfortune to have become the “Scapegoat of Belsen.”423 And the fact that the latter had volunteered to work in a concentration camp should not be held against him, certainly not by an English court.

    The concentration camp is not a German copyright. The first concentration camp in modern times was set up by the British authorities during the South African war to keep undesirable elements away until the fighting was over. The most modern concentration camp was set up in Egypt by the British in order to keep undesirable elements from Greece out of the reach of the ordinary people. The object of the German concentration camp was to segregate the undesirable elements,and the most undesirable element,from the German point of view, was the Jew.424

    After having explained why one should not judge the Germans too harshly in confining Jews to camps, Winwood proceeded effortlessly to put the blame for the conditions within the camps on the inmates.

    As regards these German concentration camps, there were large numbers of people housed in them, and it is a fact that they were very overcrowded. The guards were few, and the administration staff was even fewer in proportion. The result was that it was left to the internees to do the ordinary “interior economy” of the camp, and that is the principle applied to prisoner of war and internee camps. The type of internee who came to these concentration camps was low, and had very little idea of doing what they were told, so that the control of these internees was a great problem.425

    Then there was Major L.S.W. Cranfield, who did his best to assault the credibility of witnesses, and to create reasonable doubt as to the operation of Auschwitz as an extermination camp. The summary of his closing speech reads in many ways as the founding document of negationism. “The court had first of all to decide what were the facts about the selections for the gas chamber at Auschwitz and what actually had happened,” Cranfield argued. How did people know that those who had been selected ended up in the gas chambers?

    From the evidence it appeared that the usual grounds for inferring people had been gassed was that they disappeared, but the same thing would have happened if they had been sent away to a factory or to another camp. With regard to Block 25,it might well have been that that block was used as a staging block for any party that was to leave the camp after a selection. When parties had been chosen they would obviously have to be segregated until they got away. Witnesses had spoken about people staying in Block 25 for days. If the authorities had decided to have a gas chamber selection they would not have done that unless they knew that the gas chamber was ready to take the people selected. Would they have selected 1000 people for the gas chamber and put them in Block 25 and kept them there for three days?426

    And thus Cranfield began the search for alternative explanations that, as we will see below, became a hallmark of negationist reasoning.

    Cranfield also tried another route. In his opening speech for the defendants Irma Grese and three others, Cranfield argued that the concentration camps were, under German law, prisons and that their inmates were legally imprisoned. He admitted that even if the camps had been legally established, the defendants should have refused to obey their superiors as they should have known that they were participating in a crime against humanity. “I answer that by saying that the accused can only judge what is a crime against humanity by their own environment,” Cranfield retorted. “What is alleged to have been done in these concentration camps was to the accused nothing else than common form in Europe.”427

    Obviously, Cranfield’s reasoning was less than satisfactory, and therefore Colonel Smith, sometime Professor of International Law at London University, was added to the defense team to help them deal with the legality of the indictment from the perspective of international law. Smith first of all argued that what happened in the concentration camps was no war crime because it did not involve an offence against the legitimate conduct of the operations of war.

    This policy of concentration camps was started by Hitler within a few weeks of his ascension to power in early 1933. It was continued with ever increasing intensity throughout the whole time of peace, and it would have continued after the war if the Germans had won the war. It was part of a national German policy, a policy which we are all agreed is detestable, primarily the degradation and ultimate extermination of the Jewish race. More than that, in addition to the unfortunate Jewish race the Germans regarded as their inferiors the Slavonic races, who were treated with scarcely less severity. So I would like to submit to the Court, and as strongly as I can, that we are dealing here with incidents which occur, it is true, in time of war, but which have no logical connection with the war whatever –a policy which was begun in peace as a peace-time policy and was intended to be carried on as a permanent and long-term policy.428

    As a result, it was inappropriate to indict the defendants with a war crime and try them before a Military Court.

    Colonel Smith even maintained that the orders that had been given to build and operate the gas chambers had been legal within the admittedly unusual legal structure of the Third Reich, and that Kramer could therefore not be tried, as he merely had obeyed the law. Smith observed that, by the mid 1930s, Hitler had become the law, and that he had chosen to delegate some of his powers to Himmler, and that the latter had placed his instruments of power–the Gestapo, the concentration camps–outside the control of the courts. “Apply that to the most important thing in the charges, the gas chamber at Auschwitz,” Smith asked. “If you ask me to produce a law legalizing the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Belsen, of course I could not do it,” Smith admitted. BBut this did no matter. All that mattered was Himmler saying “Have a gas chamber.”

    If Himmler said a gas chamber was to be erected, he did not need a special law for it. His order was sufficient, and everyone concerned had to obey it. TThat is my proposition and believe it to be a perfectly sound one. What it leads to is this. In the case of the average German it was impossible to have the kind of conflict which might arise in England, where a man might question the order of his superior officer and say: “You cannot give me that order under the Army Act,” and so on. An order as an order is perfectly legal, and where there is a conflict between internal law and the international law the individual must always obey the law.429

    Because Kramer and his colleagues had not built the gas chambers on their own initiative, and because they had sent people there on orders of others which, ultimately, came from Hitler, he could not be held accountable under International Law.

    Observers who followed the trial were in fact quite troubled by the amount of leeway given to the defence. “Impatience over the Belsen trials seems to be growing, and ought to be,” the British weekly The Spectator reported as early as October 5.

    It is perfectly right, and in true accord with the best traditions of British justice, that the accused should be adequately defended and anything that can be said for them said. But there are limits. It would almost appear as if the relevant authoorities were determined to ge Kramer and his Kramerish colleagues acquitted at any price.430

    More than a month later public opinion had not changed much. “The Belsen trial is at last reaching its end, and justice will at last be done,” the representative of Jewish relief organizations at the trial Norman Bentwich observed.

    The general verdict that is passed on its protracted hearing is that, while it was an example of British administration of justice, conducted with dignity and with every regard for the accused, it involved an efflorescence of legal procedure. The twelve defending officers put all the forty-five accused persons into the box to tell a long story; and people began to believe the wisecrack, that was passed around Luneburg in the first week of the trial, that they would save their clients from the gallows by boring them to death.431

    The prosecution rested its case on November 13,1945.Colonel Backhouse made it clear that he had no doubts as to the historical record.

    There is only one general picture of Auschwitz. Here was a camp in Poland, in a place where even the S.S. objected to being posted, and you have seen the type of place it was from the film supplied by the Russian government and heard what went on there from a variety of people. Can the Court have the slightest doubt, first of all, about the gas chamber or the selections which were made? It is freely admitted that there were in the camp Birkenau five gas chambers attached to the crematoria,432 and that when they were really busy the latter could not keep up, so that they had in addition to dig pits where bodies were thrown and burned by oil or petrol being poured upon them. People were gassed night and day. We have been told that these gas chambers could carry 1000 people at each gassing and that during some periods people were saved up until there were 1000 in order to save wasting gas. In the busy period the Sonderkommando was working so that there was a gassing every hour and they were working in double shifts day and night. You have heard that utterly foul picture painted by Dr. Bendel. Can you have any doubt about it? The persons who were being put into these gas chambers were not people who had committed any crime or offence, they were not people who had been submitted to any trial; they were pure and simply persons who were no longer fit to work for the Reich, and although Kramer would not admit it to me in cross-examination, when it was put to him in re-examination he said: “It was a doctrine of my party to destroy the Jewish race. “Whatever other places may also have been used in the course of this destruction, in Auschwitz alone literally millions of people were gassed for no other reasons than that they were Jews. The people who were gassed were the old, the weak, the pregnant women, and children under 14. Those were the people who were being selected and put into these gas chambers and quite blatantly murdered. No one could for a moment believe that that was anything but murder and an obvious crime against humanity.433

    Given all the hesitation the Russian report–the only one available at the time of the Belsen Trial–had shown in even mentioning the word “Jew,” Backhouse’s closing speech was a remarkably straightforward and honest assessment of whom had been the principal victims of the gas chambers. And these were not, as Kramer had suggested, “the dregs of the ghettos ” without whom the world was better off. “This is manifestly untrue from the evidence,” Backhouse asserted.

    The people who were going through this gas chamber were going through without regard to class or ability; without regard to anything at all except for the fact of their religion, their race, or that they could work no longer as slaves. This is why they went through the gas chamber.434

    Conforming the customs of military justice, the Judge Advocate–the professional lawyer C. L.Stirling–provided a summary of the arguments, laying out the legal issues, and the questions the court should consider.

    Now I want to remind you that in every trial in a British court there are two main issues which have to be established, and you will forgive me if I perhaps repeat things which are known to you because of your experience and standing in the Army. I feel it is my duty in a case of this gravity to emphasize these points although it may well be they have already occurred to you. The two broad issues that have to be established to your satisfaction beyond all reasonable doubt are, first, has the crime set out in the charge-sheet been established? Secondly, if it has been established, have the accused or any of them before you in the charge-sheet been proved to your satisfaction to have committed it?435

    As far as the first issue was concerned, Stirling had the following to say:

    Rightly or wrongly (it is, of course, for you to decide whether or not you accept it) in my view there is a tremendous general body of evidence going to establish that at Auschwitz the staff responsible for the well-being of internees were taking part in these gassings….I am not for a moment suggesting that the prisoners in the dock necessarily committed what I call that general crime. I will consider that later in detail under the second heading. There is that evidence before you and I must leave it to you to decide whether you accept it or not. As, however, the evidence is before you I am satisfied to say that there is evidence upon which you could find that the war crime set out in the first charge had been committed.436

    At the end of his summation, Stirling reminded the court of their duty.

    You are about, in the next few minutes, to go to the peace and quiet of your own room to decide the fate of these men and women in the light of evidence. When you go I would ask you to take with you the words of Lord Sankey in the famous case of Woolmington v. The Director of Public Prosecutions, 1935 A.C. 462, a case that is known throughout the length and breadth of every English court. “Throughout the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen, that is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt. If at the end of and on the whole of the case there is a reasonable doubt created by the evidence given by either the prosecution or the prisoner, the prosecution has not made out the case and the prisoner is entitled to an acquittal no matter what the charge or where the trial.” The principle that the Prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the common law of England, and no attempt to whittle it down can be entertained, and no attempt has been made in this case by the Prosecution to whittle it down.

    If you have a reasonable doubt in regard to any one of these accused, it is your duty to record a finding of not guilty. On the other hand, if the Prosecution have established their case to your satisfaction, and have excluded reasonable doubt by producing that judicial certainty which excludes such a doubt, then, gentlemen, it would be your duty to convict and to mete out that stern justice which a conviction on charges of this kind not only requires but demands.437

    The court withdrew, and returned with 30 guilty verdicts and 14 acquittals. Of the 30 guilty verdicts, ten included a guilty for having committed a war crime in Auschwitz. Kramer, Klein and Hoessler were amongst those convicted. They were sentenced to death.

    The proceedings of the Belsen Trial were published in 1949, and in the introduction the editor, Raymond Phillips, observed that in some future the trial would perhaps be remembered “for the achievement of the British Legal System in refusing to be stampeded into the wild justice of revenge.” Confronted with charges that had aroused “the resentment and horror of humanity,” the court had brought “a cool, calm, dispassionate and unhurried determination.”438 I agree with Phillips. On reading and re-reading the proceedings, one is not left with the sense that there were many, if any, loose ends. The prosecution did establish that the crime happened, that gas chambers operated in Auschwitz, and that the many of the accused shared a responsibility for it.439

    For the first time in the West, people entrusted with judicial authority had to pass formal judgement on the evidence according to traditional and proven methods. At the conclusion of the trial, the editors of The Spectator who had shown so much criticism for the proceedings before, finally admitted that all the attention to judicial form had served an important purpose.

    There has been much criticism of the proceedings, chiefly directed to their length and the pains taken to ensure that justice shall be done and shall be seen to be done. Now the trial is over, such criticism seems very near praise. The trial has served a valuable purpose in exposing in detail some of the horrible crimes which were common form in the Germany of the concentration camps and in ensuring that they met with the strictest justice. One of the most interesting features was that the accused, who were capable of such inhuman cruelty, presented no appearance of abnormality and regarded their crimes as honourable services to their fatherland.440

    With the Belsen Trial, the gas chambers at Auschwitz formally entered the historical record as what Colonel Backhouse rightly identified as “a war crime which has never been equalled.”441

    On August 8, 1945 the four Great Powers had signed an accord to establish an International Military Tribunal that was to prosecute and punish leading war criminals. The tribunal was initially given jurisdiction over three types of crimes: 1. Crimes against peace; 2. War crimes; and 3. Crimes against humanity. The last included the extermination, enslavement, and deportation of civilians and persecution on political, racial or religious grounds. The tribunal charged 22 political and military leaders of the Third Reich, including Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who had been since January 30, 1943 chief of the Reich Security Main Office–the central agency charged with the coordination of the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Problem. Of all the defendants, Kaltenbrunner was the only SS official, and had had as such most business with Auschwitz. But even so, Kaltenbrunner had had only a relative little significance in the history of the camp: the main architect of the camp’s history, and its transformation from a regular concentration camp into an extermination camp, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Heinrich Himmler, was dead, as was his aide Reinhard Heydrich. As a result, the war-time history of Auschwitz had little direct bearing on the proceedings against the defendants. Only in the case against Kaltenbrunner was there an explicit connection between the camp and a defendant’s direct responsibility. And, as we will see, it was in the case against Kaltenbrunner that the most important testimony was to occur.

    The first time that the role of Auschwitz was highlighted was on January 3,1946 in the testimony of Dieter Wisliceny, who had been an aide to Eichmann. Wisliceny, told the court about his involvement, in 1942, with the deportation of Slovak Jews as forced labour to Auschwitz, and of his involvement in early 1943 with the preparations for the deportation of more than 50,000 Saloniki Jews in between 20 and 25 transports of between 2,000 and 2,500 people each to Auschwitz.442

    Lt.Col. Brookhart: “And what was the ultimate disposition of the Jews sent to Auschwitz from Greece?”

    Wisliceny: “They were without exception destined for the so-called final solution.”443

    Wisliceny also testified that he had participated in the deportation of some 450,000 Jews from Hungary.

    Q.: “What became of the Jews to whom you have already referred-approximately 450,000?”
    A.: “They were, without exception, taken to Auschwitz and brought to the final solution.”
    Q.: “Do you mean they were killed?”
    A.: “Yes, with the exception of perhaps 25 to 30 percent who were used for labor purposes. I here refer to a previously mentioned conversation on this matter between Hoess and Eichmann in Budapest.”444

    Later that January Auschwitz took, for a short time, center stage in the presentation of the French case against the defendants. It was appropriate that the French would raise the issue, as they had suffered under Nazi rule, and 69,000 French citizens had been deported to Auschwitz. Interestingly, the French described the world of the camps as the center of a conspiracy against civilisation itself–that very civilisation of which France had been such a staunch defender. The Chief Prosecutor, Francois de Menthon defined “the organized and vast criminality” of National Socialism as a denial of “all spiritual, rational, and moral values by which the nations have tried, for thousands of years, to improve human conditions.” Its aim, he said, was to “plunge humanity back into barbarism, no longer the natural and spontaneous barbarism of primitive nations, but into a diabolical barbarism, conscious of itself and utilizing for its ends all material means put at the disposal of mankind by contemporary science.” Indeed, to de Menthon, the defendants did not stand accused because of war crimes committed “in the excitement of combat,” or “under the influence of a mad passion,” or out of “a warlike anger,” or out of “an avenging resentment,” but “as a result of cold calculation, of perfectly conscious methods, of a pre-existing doctrine.”445

    Given this approach, the concentration camps were important evidence of the German assault against civilisation. Three witnesses described life and death in Mauthausen, and two testified about conditions in Buchenwald. On January 28,1946, Marie Claude Vaillant-Couturier, deputy of the Constituent Assembly and Knight in the Legion of Honor, provided a long, precise and important testimony on the situation in Auschwitz. Vaillant-Couturier–a gentile–had been a member of the resistance, and she was arrested in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz in 1943. Examined by Deputy Prosecutor Charles Dubost, she provided a detailed account of the atrocious conditions in the women’s camp at Birkenau, the sterilization of women, the killing of babies born of women who had arrived pregnant, and so on.

    Dubost: “What do you know about the convoy of Jews which arrived from Romainville about the same time as yourself?”

    Vaillant-Couturier: “When we left Romainville the Jewesses who were there at the same time as ourselves were left behind. They were sent to Drancy and subsequently arrived at Auschwitz, where we found them again 3 weeks later, 3 weeks after our arrival. Of the original 3,000 only 125 actually came to the camp; the others were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Of these 125 not one was left alive at the end of 1 month.”
    The transports operated as follows:
    When we first arrived, whenever a convoy of Jews came, a selection was made; first the old men and women, then the mothers and the children were put into the trucks together with the sick or those whose constitution appeared to be delicate. They took in only the young women and girls as well as the young men who were sent to the men’s camp.
    Generally speaking, of a convoy of about 1,000 to 1,500, seldom more than 250–and this figure really was the maximum–actually reached the camp. The rest were immediately sent to the gas chamber.
    At this selection also, they picked out women in good health between the ages of 20 and 30, who were sent to the experimental block; and young girls and slightly older women, or those who had not been selected for that purpose, were sent to the camp where, like ourselves, they were tattooed and shaved.
    There was also, in the spring of 1944, a special block for twins. It was during the time when large convoys of Hungarian Jews–about 700,000–arrived. Dr.Mengele, who was carrying out the experiments, kept back from each convoy twin children and twins in general, regardless of their age, so long as both were present. So we had both babies and adults on the floor at that block. Apart from blood tests and measuring I do not know what was done to them.”

    Q.: “Were you an eye witness of the selections on the arrival of the convoys?”

    A.: “Yes, because when we worked at the sewing block in 1944, the block where we lived directly faced the stopping place of the trains. The system had been improved. Instead of making the selection at the place where they arrived, a side line now took the train practically right up to the gas chamber; and the stopping place, about 100 meters from the gas chamber, was right opposite our block though, of course, separated from us by two rows of barbed wire. Consequently, we saw the unsealing of the cars and the soldiers letting men, women, and children out of them. We then witnessed heart-rending scenes; old couples forced to part from each other, mothers made to abandon their young daughters, since the latter were sent to the camp, whereas mothers and children were sent to the gas chambers. All these people were unaware of the fate awaiting them. They were merely upset at being separated, but they did not know that they were going to their death. To render their welcome more pleasant at this time–June-July 1944–an orchestra composed of internees, all young and pretty girls dressed in little white blouses and navy blue skirts, played during the selection, at the arrival of the trains, gay tunes such as “The Merry Widow,” the “Barcarolle” from “The Tales of Hoffman,” and so forth. They were then informed that this was a labor camp and since they were not brought into the camp they saw only the small platform surrounded by flowering plants. Naturally, they could not realize what was in store for them. Those selected for the gas chamber, that is, the old people, mothers, and children, were escorted to a red-brick building.”

    Q.: “These were not given an identification number?”

    A.: “No.”

    Q.: “They were not tattooed?”

    A.: “No. They were not even counted.”

    Q.: “You were tattooed?”

    A.: “Yes, look.[The witness showed her arm]. They were taken to a red brick building, which bore the letters ‘Baden,’ that is to say ‘Baths.’ There, to begin with, they were made to undress and given a towel before they went into the so-called shower room. Later on, at the time of the large convoys from Hungary, they had no more time left to play-act or pretend; they were brutally undressed, and I know these details as I knew a little Jewess from France who lived with her family at the ‘Republique’ district.”

    Q.: “In Paris?”

    A.: “In Paris. She was called ‘little Marie’ and was the only one, the sole survivor of a family of nine. Her mother and her seven brothers and sisters had been gassed on arrival. When I met her she was employed to undress the babies before they were taken into the gas chamber. Once the people were undressed they took them into a room which was somewhat like a shower room, and gas capsules were thrown through an opening in the ceiling. An SS man would watch the effect produced through a porthole. At the end of 5 or 7 minutes, when the gas had completed its work, he gave the signal to open the doors; and men with gas masks–they were too internees–went into the room and removed the corpses. They told us that the internees must have suffered before dying, because they were closely clinging to one another and it was very difficult to separate them.
    After that a special squad would come to pull out gold teeth and dentures; and again, when the bodies had been reduced to ashes, they would sift them in an attempt to recover the gold….”446

    By the time Dubost finished his presentation of the evidence of the concentration camps, there were few doubts left that the French prosecution had achieved its aim. Judge Sir Norman Birkett noted in his diary that “the evidence is building up a most terrible and convincing case of complete horror and inhumanity in the concentration camps.” And he added that one did not need much more. “The case has been proved over and over again.”447

    Yet the Russian prosecutors did not see any reason not to confront the court once more with Auschwitz. On February 27, 1946 they presented Severina Shmaglevskaya, a Polish inmate in Auschwitz, with the single aim to receive testimony about the attitude of the SS.

    Mr. Counsellor Smirnov: “Tell me, Witness, did you yourself see the children being taken to gas chambers?”

    Shmaglevskaya: “I worked very close to the railway which led to the crematory. Sometimes in the morning I passed near the building the Germans used as a latrine, and from there I could secretly watch the transport. I saw many children among the Jews brought to the concentration camp. Sometimes a family had several children. The Tribunal is probably aware of the fact that in front of the crematory they were all sorted out.”

    Q.: “Selection was made by the doctors?”

    A.: “Not always by doctors: sometimes by SS men.”

    Q.: “And doctors with them?”

    A.: “Yes, sometimes, by doctors too. During such a sorting, the youngest and healthiest Jewish women in very small numbers entered the camp. Women carrying children in their arms or in carriages, or those who had larger children, were sent into the crematory with their children. The children were separated from their parents in front of the crematory and were led separately into gas chambers.
    At that time, when the greatest number of Jews were exterminated in the gas chambers, an order was issued that the children were to be thrown into the crematory ovens or the crematory ditches without previous asphyxiation with gas.”

    Q.: “How should we understand that? Were they thrown into the ovens alive or were they killed by other means before they were burned?”

    A.: “The children were thrown in alive. Their cries could be heard all over the camp. It is hard to say how many there were.”

    Q.: “Nevertheless, there was some reason why this was done. Was it because the gas chambers were overworked?”

    A.: “It is very difficult to answer this question. We don’t know whether they wanted to economize on the gas or whether there was no room in the gas chambers.
    I should also add that it is impossible to determine the number of these children–like that of the Jews–because they were driven directly to the crematory, were not registered, were not tattooed, and very often were not even counted. We, the internees, often tried to ascertain the number of people who perished in gas chambers; but our estimates of the number of children executed could only be based on the number of children’s prams which were brought to the storerooms. Sometimes there were hundreds of these carriages, but sometimes they sent thousands.”

    Q.: “In one day?”

    A.: “Not always the same. There were days when the gas chambers worked from early morning until late at night.”448

    That same day the prison psychologist at the Nuremberg Trial, Gustave M. Gilbert, noted in his diary that Karl Doenitz’s lawyer, Otto Kranzbuehler, had asked him “Didn’t anybody know anything about any of these things?” Doenitz had just shaken his head, shrugging sadly. Gilbert had gone over to Alfred Jodl to ask him if it was possible that nobody knew anything about the camps.

    “Of course, somebody knew about it,” Jodl said quietly. “There was a whole chain-of-command from the Chief of the RSHA down to the people who executed those commands.

    I then walked over to Kaltenbrunner. “I suppose you didn’t know anything about these things either.”

    “Of course not,” he whispered. “The people who did are all dead.–Hitler, Himmler, Bormann, Heydrich, Eichmann–“

    “Did those few people have the sole knowledge and responsibility for the murder of millions of people and the burning of children alive?”

    “Well, no–the people who actually participated in it did–. But I had nothing to do with it.”

    “Even as Chief of the RSHA?”

    “Concentration camps were not my responsibility. I never found out anything about any of this.”449

    By the end of February, no-one felt that there was a need for more testimony about Auschwitz in the trial. The French and Russian prosecutors rightly assumed they had made their point, and the lawyers for the defendants felt no inclination to call attention to the camp. Then, on March 11, 1946, everything changed: British soldiers found Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Höss, who had been in hiding since the end of the war.

    By his own account, initially the British treated Höss roughly.450 At the end of March his treatment improved, and he was flown to Nuremberg to serve as a defence witness for Kaltenbrunner. As we have seen, Kaltenbrunner maintained that he had nothing to do with Auschwitz–“Concentration camps were not my responsibility. I never found out anything about any of this “–and Kaltenbrunner’s lawyer Kurt Kauffman believed that Höss could confirm Kaltenbrunner’s claims in the matter of Auschwitz. In Nuremberg Höss was interrogated. At the certain moment he was asked if he could confirm that Jews started to arrive in great numbers in 1942. Höss did, and then gave a detailed list of the numbers: 250,000 from Poland, 65,000 from Greece, 100,000 from Germany, 90,000 from Holland, 110,000 from France, 90,000 from Slovakia, 20,000 from Belgium and 400,000 from Hungary. The conversation continued as follows:

    Q.: “Now you just told us that you had facilities for 130,000. If you add all those figures they amount to a much greater number than 130,000.How could you accommodate all those people?”
    A.: “They were not supposed to be employed in work there, but they were supposed to be exterminated.”451

    On 5 April Höss was given an affidavit which he corrected and ultimately signed. In that he admitted that he had overseen the extermination, “by gassing and burning,” of at least two and half million human beings–mostly Jews.

    6. The “final solution” of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time there were already in the general government three other extermination camps; BELZEK, TREBLINKA and WOLZEK.452 These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The Camp Commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one-half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas and I did not think his method were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz I, I used Cyclon B, which was crystallized Prussic Acid we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special commandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.

    7. Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2,000 people at one time, whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: we had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transport of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the Camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavoured to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.453

    On Monday, 15 April Höss was called to the witness stand. Examined by Kaltenbrunner’s lawyer Kauffmann, Höss tried to serve Kaltenbrunner’s case as well as he could.

    Dr. Kaufmann: “I ask you whether Himmler inspected the camp and convinced himself, too, of the process of annihilation?
    Höss: “Yes. Himmler visited the camp in 1942 and he watched in detail one processing from beginning to end.”
    Q.: “Does the same apply to Eichmann?”
    A.: “Eichmann came repeatedly to Auschwitz and was intimately acquainted with the proceedings.”
    Q.: “Did the Defendant Kaltenbrunner ever inspect the camp?”
    A.: “No.”
    Q.: “Did you ever talk with Kaltenbrunner with reference to your task?”
    A.:: “No, never….”454

    Kauffmann’s examination did not help Kaltenbrunner’s case. American prosecutor Colonel John Harlan Amen’s cross-examination proved damaging for all the defendants. Initially Amen asked Höss a few simple questions concerning the practice of high German functionaries of visiting the camps, and more specifically about Kaltenbrunner’s connection to Auschwitz. Then he turned to the affidavit, and asked if Höss had signed it voluntarily. Höss answered in the affirmative.455

    Höss’ testimony created great gloom amongst the accused. Dr. Gilbert noted in his diary that the former Governor General of Poland, Hans Frank, told him that “That was the low point of the entire Trial–to hear a man say out of his own mouth that he exterminated 2 1 /2 million people in cold blood–. That is something that people will talk about for a thousand years.”456 Gilbert, however, was nor surprised by Höss willingness to testify. He had got to know him during two visits. On April 9 Gilbert visited Höss in his cell.

    He readily confirmed that approximately 2 1 /2 million Jews had been exterminated under his direction. The exterminations began in the summer of 1941.In compliance with Goering’s scepticism, I asked Hoes how it was technically possible to exterminate 2 1 /2 million people. “Technically?” he asked. “That wasn’t so hard–it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers.” In answer to my rather naive questions as to how many people could be done away with in an hour, etc., he explained that one must figure it on a daily 24-hour basis, and it was possible to exterminate up to 10,000 in one 24-hour period. He explained that there were actually 6 extermination chambers. The 2 big ones could accommodate as many as 2,000 in each and the 4 smaller ones up to 1500, making a total capacity of 10,000 a day.457 I tried to figure out how this was done, but he corrected me. “No, you don’t figure it right. The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 in a half hour, but it was the burning that took all the time. The killing was easy; you didn’t even need guards to drive them into the chambers; they just went in expecting to take showers and, instead of water, we turned on poison gas. The whole thing went very quickly.” He related all of this in a quiet, apathetic, matter-of-fact tone of voice.458

    Asked by Gilbert to provide more detail, Höss wrote later that month a short memorandum which Gilbert did not publish at the time, but was to present during the Eichmann Trial to the District Court of Jerusalem. It gave a detailed description of the arrival, selection and killing of the deportees.

    The freight trains with the Jews destined for extermination moved along a special railroad installation which had been laid down especially for this purpose right up to the extermination installations. Notification of these trains was given in advance by Obersturmbannführer Eichmann of the RSHA, and they were allocated consecutive numbers, together with letters of the alphabet, in order to prevent a mix-up with transports of other prisoners. Each cable relating to these transports bore the reference: “In accordance with the specified directives, and are to be subjected to special treatment.” These trains consisted of closed freight cars and contained, on the average, about 2,000 persons. When the trains arrived at the aforementioned ramp, the accompanying railway personnel and the accompanying guard–members of the Security or Order Police–had to leave the area. Only the transport commander who had delivered it remained until it had been completely handed over, and the numbers checked, to the duty officer of the camp. After the trains were off-loaded and the numbers determined (lists by names were not drawn up), all the people had to file past two SS duty doctors, and in the course of this, those who were fit for work were separated from those who were unfit. On the average about twenty-five per cent were found to be fit for work. These were marched off immediately into the camp, in order to change their clothes and be received there. All the luggage remained on the ramp and, after those unfit for work had also been sent off, it was brought to the store of personal effects, to be sorted out. Those unfit for work were classified according to sex–men, women, and children–and marched off to the nearest available extermination installation. Those unable to walk and women with small children were transported there on trucks. When they arrived, all of them had to strip naked in rooms which gave the impression of being delousing installations. The permanent labour unit of prisoners who worked in these installations–and who were also housed there and did not come into contact with other inmates of the camp–helped with the undressing and coaxed the hesitant to hurry up, ss that the others would not have to wait so long.

    They were also told to take note where they put away their clothes, so that they would be able to find them again immediately after taking their bath. All this was done on purpose, in order to dispel any fears which might arise. After they had taken off their clothes, they were taken into a nearby room–the gas chamber itself. It had been prepared to look like a washroom–that is to say, showers and pipes were installed throughout, water drainage channels, etc. The moment the entire transport had entered the chamber, the door was closed, and simultaneously the gas was forced in from above through a special aperture. It was Zyklon “B” gas, cyanide acid in the form of crystals, which vaporized immediately, that is to say, it took effect immediately upon coming into contact with oxygen. The people were dazed already on taking their first breath, and the process of killing took from thirteen to fifteen minutes., depending upon the weather conditions and the number of people locked up within. Thereafter, nothing moved any more. Thirty minutes after the gas had been released and had entered the chambers, they would be opened, and the transfer of the bodies to the crematoria would commence. Throughout all these years, I never came across a single case of a person coming our of the gas chambers while still alive. While the bodies were taken out, the women’s hair was still cut, and gold teeth and rings removed by prisoner dentists who were employed in this unit.

    In Birkenau there were five installations -two large crematoria, each of which had a capacity for receiving 2,000 persons in the course of 24 hours. That is to say, it was possible in one gas chamber to put to death up to 2,500 persons; in five double ovens heated with coke, it was possible to burn at most 2,000 bodies within 24 hours; two smaller installations could eliminate about 1,500 people, with four bigger double ovens to each of them. Furthermore, there was also an open-air installation–that is, an old farmhouse was sealed and turned into a gas chamber, which could also contain 1,500 persons at one and the same time.459 The incineration was carried out there in an open pit on wood, and this was practically limitless. In my estimation, it was possible to burn there, in 24 hours, up to 8,000 persons in this way. Hence it was possible to exterminate and eliminate up to 10,000 people within 24 hours in the installations described above. As far as I am aware, this number was attained only once in 1944, when delays occurred in the arrival of trains, and consequently five transports arrived together on one day. The ashes of the burnt bodies were ground into dust, which was poured into the Vistula in remote places and swept away with the current.

    On the basis of the figure of 2.5 million, which is the number of people who–according to Eichmann–were brought to Auschwitz for extermination, it may be said that on average, two transports arrived daily, with a combined total of 4,000 persons, of whom twenty-five per cent were fit for work, the balance of 3,000 were to be exterminated. The intervals in the various operations can be computed together at nine months. Thus there remain 27 months, with 90,000 people each month–a total of 2,430,000 people. This is a calculation of the technical potential. I have to keep to the figure mentioned by Eichmann, for he was the only SS officer who was allowed to keep records concerning these liquidation operations, according to the orders of the Reichsführer-SS.All other units which took part in any way had to destroy all records immediately. Eichmann mentioned this number in my presence when he was called upon, in April 1945, to present a report to the Reichsführer-SS. I had no records whatsoever. But, to the best of my knowledge, this number appears to me much too high. If I calculate the total of the mass operations which I still remember, and still make allowance for a certain percentage of error, I arrive, in my calculation, at a total of 1.5 million at the most for the period from the beginning of 1941 to the end of 1944. But these are my computations which I cannot verify.
    Nuremberg, 24 April 1946 (Signed) Rudolf Höss

    (At the bottom of the document): Hungary – 400,000; Slovakia – 90,000; Greece -65,000; Holland – 90,000; France – 110,000; Belgium – 20,000; the region of the Generalgouvernement and Upper Silesia – 250,000; Germany and terezin -100,000. Total – 1,125,000.460

    Gilbert noted that Höss had little remorse. “One gets the general impression of a man who is intellectually normal but with schizoid apathy, insensitivity and lack of empathy that could hardly be more extreme in a frank psychotic.”461

    Höss’s Nuremberg testimony marked an important development in the historiography of Auschwitz. Until Höss took the stand, information had been based on the testimony of witnesses, of members of the camp’s lower personnel and middle-management, on a document collection that was only comprehensive where it concerned the construction of the camp, and on the inspection of the site itself. It had become clear by 1946 that the history of the camp had been complex, but there had been little insight why and how the camp had evolved. In Poland, Jan Sehn was not only ready to prosecute Höss for war crimes, but also very anxious to interview him as an eye-witness to history, as only the former commandant would be able to answer most of the various outstanding questions concerning the evolving purpose of Auschwitz. Sehn got his chance when, on request of the Polish government, Höss was extradited to Poland.

    After Höss’s arrival in Poland on May 25, 1946, Sehn and the psychologist Professor Stanislaw Batawia, who had been assigned the task to create a psychological profile of Höss, set out to establish a working relationship with him. Knowing quite well that he had no chance of acquittal, Höss decided to cooperate, and on their suggestion he wrote 34 shorter (the shortest is one paragraph long)and longer (the longest is 114 densely written pages long) documents. The first essay Höss drafted was a roughly 9,000 word-long statement on the role of Auschwitz in the Holocaust entitled “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Concentration Camp Auschwitz.” In this essay, and in accordance with earlier statements made in Nuremberg, Höss claimed that Himmler had made the decision to transform Auschwitz into an extermination camp for Jews in the summer of 1941.462 There is no independent corroboration of Höss’s account of his conversation with Himmler, and so one can only come to tentative conclusions as to the value of Höss’s account of the decision to make Auschwitz into a final destination for European Jewry. What is, however, fully corroborated by many other witnesses –both Germans such as Broad and Aumeier as well as others–is the bulk of Höss’s testimony. First experimentation with the use of Zyklon B as a killing agent occurred in the Fall of 1941. Initially rooms in the basement of Block 11 were used as primitive gas chambers. As it was difficult to ventilate these spaces, the morgue of crematorium 1 was adapted for the purpose. “The doors were made airtight, and we knocked some holes in he ceiling through which we could throw in the gas crystals.”463 Finally Höss ordered the transformation of some peasant cottages into gas chambers.

    I am unable to recall when the destruction of the Jews began–probably in September 1941, or perhaps not until January 1942.At first we dealt with the Jews from Upper Silesia. These Jews were arrested by the Gestapo from Katowice and ttransported via the Auschwitz-Dziediez railroad and unloaded there. As far as I can recall, these transports never numbered more than a thousand persons.

    A detachment of SS from the camp took charge of them at the railroad ramp,464 and the officer in charge marched them to the bunker in two groups. This is what we called the extermination installation.

    Their luggage remained on the ramp and was later brought between the DAW [German Armaments Works] and the railroad station.465

    The Jews had to undress at the bunker and were told that they would have to go into the delousing rooms. All of the rooms–there were five of them–were filled at the same time. The airtight doors were screwed tight, and the contents of the gas crystal canisters emptied into the rooms through special hatches.

    After half an hour the doors were opened and the bodies were pulled out. Each room had two doors. They were then moved using small carts on special tracks to the ditches. The clothing was brought by trucks to the sorting place. All of the work was done by a special contingent of Jews.466 They had to help those who were about to die with the undressing, the filling up of the bunkers, the clearing of the bunkers, removal of the bodies, as well as digging the mass graves and, finally, covering the graves with earth. These Jews were housed separately from the other prisoners and, according to Eichmann’s orders, they themselves were to be killed after each large extermination action.467

    As Höss mentioned, initially the corpses of those murdered were buried. Then In the summer of 1942 a decision was taken to change the manner of corpse disposal. The occasion was the well-documented two-day visit by Himmler.

    During his visit in the summer of 1942, Himmler very carefully observed the entire process of annihilation. He began with the unloading at the ramps and completed the inspection as Bunker 2 was being cleared of bodies. At that time there were no open-pit burnings. He did not complain about anything, but he didn’t say anything about it either. Accompanying him were District Leader Bracht and SS General Schmauser. Shortly after Himmler’s visit, SS Colonel Blobel from Eichmann’s office arrived and brought Himmler’s order, which stated that all the mass graves were to be opened and all the bodies cremated. It further stated that all the ashes were to be disposed of in such a way that later on there would be no way to determine the number of those cremated.

    Blobel had already conducted various experiments in Kulmhof [Chelmno], which tried to burn the bodies in various ways. He was ordered by Eichmann to show me the installations. I drove with Hössler to Chelmno for an inspection.468

    As Höss was to explain elsewhere, the most important reason for the change in corpse disposal was the fact that the enormous mass graves putrified the water supply at the camp and the surrounding area.

    As late as the summer of 1942 the corpses were still buried in mass graves. Not until the end of the summer did we start burning them. At first we put two thousand bodies on a large pile of wood. Then we opened up the mass graves and burned the new bodies on top of the old ones from the earlier burials. At first we poured waste oil over the bodies. Later on we used methanol. The burning went on continuously–all day and all night. By the end of November all the mass graves were cleared. The number of buried bodies in the mass graves was 107,000. This number contains not only the first Jewish transports which were gassed when we started the burnings, but also the bodies of the prisoners who died in the main Auschwitz camp during the winter of 1941-42 because the crematory was out of order. The prisoners who died at Birkenau are included in that number.469

    The open-air cremations attracted attention to the killings, and therefore Höss did everything to get the four new crematoria completed.

    The two large crematories were built in the winter of 1942-43 and brought into service in the spring of 1943. Each had five ovens with three doors per oven and could cremate about two thousand bodies in less than twenty-four hours. Technical difficulties made it impossible to increase the capacity. Attempts to do this caused severe damage to the installations and on several occasions they were unable to function. Crematories [2 and 3] both had underground undressing rooms and underground gas chambers in which the air could be completely ventilated. The bodies were taken to the ovens on the floor above by an elevator. The [two] gas chambers could hold three thousand people, but this number was never achieved, since the individual transports were never that large.

    The two smaller crematories [4 and 5] were capable of burning about 1,500 bodies in twenty-four hours, according to the calculations made by the construction company called Topf of Erfurt. Because of the wartime shortage of materials, the builders were forced to economize during the construction of crematories [4 and 5]. They were built above ground and the ovens were not as solidly constructed.470

    Höss gave a detailed description of the killing procedure in which he expanded considerably on the information that he had given in his Nuremberg affidavit.

    The extermination process in Auschwitz took place as follows: Jews selected for gassing were taken as quietly as possible to the crematories. The men were already separated from the women. In the undressing chamber, prisoners of the Sonderkommandos, who were specially chosen for this purpose, would tell them in their own language that they were going to be bathed and deloused, and that they must leave their clothing neatly together, and, above all, remember where they put them, so that they would be able to find them quickly after the delousing. The Sonderkommando had the greatest interest in seeing that the operation proceeded smoothly and quickly. After undressing, the Jews went into the gas chamber, which was furnished with showers and water pipes and gave a realistic impression of a bath house.

    The women went in first with their children, followed by the men, who were always fewer in number.471 This part of the operation nearly always went smoothly since the Sonderkommando would always calm those who showed any anxiety or perhaps who had even some clue as to their fate. As an additional precaution, the Sonderkommando and an SS soldier always stayed in the chamber until the very last moment.

    The door would be screwed shut and the waiting disinfection squads would immediately pour the gas [crystals] into the vents in the ceiling of the gas chamber down an air shaft which went to the floor. This ensured the rapid distribution of the gas. The process could be observed through the peep hole in the door. Those who were standing next to the air shaft were killed immediately. I can state that about one-third died immediately. The remainder staggered about and began to scream and struggle for air. The screaming, however, soon changed to gasping and in a few moments everyone lay still. After twenty minutes at most no movement could be detected. The time required for the gas to take effect varied according to weather conditions and depended on whether it was damp or dry, cold or warm. It also depended on the quality of the gas, which was never exactly the same, and on the composition of the transports, which might contain a higher proportion of healthy Jews, or the old and the sick, or children. The victims became unconscious after a few minutes, according to the distance from the air shaft. Those who screamed and those who were old, sick or weak, or the small children died quicker than those who were healthy and young.

    The door was opened half an hour after the gas was thrown in and the ventilation system was turned on. Work was immediately started to remove the corpses. There was no noticeable change in the bodies and no sign of convulsions or discoloration. Only after the bodies had been left lying for some time–several hours–did the usual death stains appear where they were laid. Seldom did it occur that they were soiled with faeces. There were no signs of wounds of any kind. The faces were not contorted.

    The Sonderkommando now set about removing the gold teeth and cutting the hair from the women. After this, the bodies were taken up by an elevator and laid in front of the ovens, which had meanwhile been fired up. Depending on the size of the bodies, up to three corpses could be put in through one oven door at the same time. The time required for cremation also depended on the number of bodies in each retort, but on average it took twenty minutes. As previously stated, Crematories 2 and 3 could cremate two thousand bodies in twenty-four hours, but a higher number was not possible without causing damage to the installations. Crematories 4 and 5 should have been able to cremate 1,500 bodies in twenty-four hours, but as far as I know this figure was never reached.472

    As the crematoria ovens failed at times, Höss ordered that the possibility of open-air cremations should remain available. During the Hungarian Action, when the daily number of gassed Jews far exceeded the official incineration capacity of the crematoria, open-air pyres took care of the excess.

    The highest total figure of people gassed and cremated in twenty-four hours was slightly more than nine thousand. This figure was reached in the summer of 1944, during the action in Hungary, using all installations except Crematory [4]. On that day five trains arrived because of delays on the rail lines, instead of three, as was expected, and in addition the railroad cars were more crowded than usual.473

    The killing frenzy that characterized the Hungarian Action marked the nadir in the history of Auschwitz. At other times there were few killings. As a result, one could not calculate the total number of victims using the Soviet method of using the total incineration capacity of Auschwitz over its history as a point of departure–a method that had led the Soviet State Extraordinary Commission for the Investigation of Fascist and Nazi Crimes to speculate the more than 4 million people had been murdered in Auschwitz. Höss explicitly rejected the Soviet number, and also the figure of 2.5 million victims which he had initially mentioned during his Nuremberg interrogations. Questioned by Sehn, he confirmed that the number of victims had been most likely less than 1.2 million persons–a conclusion he had first reached in the consideration on the technology of the Final Solution, drawn up in April on request of Gilbert.

    During my earlier interrogations I gave the number of 2.5 million Jews who arrived at Auschwitz to be exterminated. This figure was given to me by Eichmann, who had given this figure to my superior, SS General Glücks, when Eichmann was ordered to make a report to Himmler shortly before Berlin was surrounded. Eichmann and his deputy, Günther, were the only ones who had the necessary information to calculate the total number of Jews annihilated….I myself never knew the total number, and I have nothing to help me arrive at an estimate. I can only remember the figures involved in the larger actions, which were repeated to me by Eichmann or his deputies.

    From Upper Silesia and the General Government 250,000
    Germany and Theresienstadt 100,000
    Holland 95,000
    Belgium 20,000
    France 110,000
    Greece 65,000
    Hungary 400,000
    Slovakia 90,000

    I can no longer remember the figures for the smaller actions, but they were insignificant by comparison with the numbers given above. I regard the number of 2.5 million as far too high. Even Auschwitz had limits to its destructive capabilities.474

    Höss completed his essay on the use of Auschwitz as a killing installation for Jews in November 1946. In the month that followed, he wrote on invitation of Sehn 32 shorter essays on various aspects of the SS and its men.In some of the biographical essays he touched on various aspects of the killing operations at Auschwitz. For example, in his portrait of Dr. Gravits, the Surgeon-General of the SS, Höss discussed the role of the SS Hygiene Institute and its leader Dr. Mugrowski in obtaining the cyanide used in the gas chambers.

    If I remember correctly, the Cyclon B gas was manufactured by the Tesch and Stabenow firm until 1942 in Hamburg. This was the gas used for disinfection and also for the extermination of the Jews. It was procured by the administration from Tesch and Stabenow. From 1942, all poison gas was purchased for the SS by a central authority. Mugrowski was in charge of the Hygienic Department and he alone was responsible for the shipments of the gas. So he was the one who continually had to get the gas for the extermination of the Jews. Tesch and Stabenow was able to deliver the needed amounts of gas by railroad on time until 1943. But after 1943 the increasing Allied air raids made this impossible. Consequently, Auschwitz was forced a few times to use trucks to get the gas from the manufacturing plant in Dessau.475

    A number of the permission slips to dispatch a truck from Auschwitz to Dessau, signed by Höss’s adjudant Mulka, survived the war, and were submitted as evidence in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial(1963-64). During Mulka’s cross-examination, the presiding judge asked him about these slips.

    [Chairman]: “Accused Mulka, have you signed permissions for trips to Dessau?”
    [Mulka]: “I only remember one occasion. A permission was signed by Glücks and at the left bottom counter-signed by me. It concerned a disinfection means.”
    Q.: “Here it reads ‘For the Resettlement of the Jews’ and ‘In confirmation of the copy Mulka.’ You knew what the resettlement of the Jews meant?”
    A.: “Yes, that was known to me.”
    Q.: “And what were those materials for the resettlement of the Jews?”
    A.(silently): “Yes, raw materials.”
    Q.: “All right then. That was thus Zyklon-B.”
    A.(even more silently): “Yes, Zyklon-B.”476

    Let us return to Höss’s essay on the SS Hygienic Institute. In this same account, Höss remarked on the use of the ambulances to transport the gas to the gas chambers.

    The ambulances were for use by the garrison doctor, and he was authorized to issue orders for their use. Because there was a constant shortage of trucks in Auschwitz, the garrison doctor had no choice but to use the ambulances for shipments to other camps. It gradually became the custom that all necessary trips for the garrison doctor were carried out with the ambulances. So, not only the sick were driven from camp to camp, but the dead also. Medicines, bandages, and surgical equipment were all transported in the same ambulances. The doctors and the medics drove them to their duties on the ramp and to the gas chambers. The Jews who could not walk were driven from the ramp to the gas chambers in ambulances. If no trucks were available, the standby ambulances were used. Because the medics were the ones who threw the gas into the gas chambers, they would be driven with their cans of gas to the gas chambers using the ambulances when no other trucks were available. They just hitchhiked a ride with the doctors who were going there anyway.

    As time went by the ambulances were used for all kinds of purposes because no other trucks were available. No one ever gave a thought that they were profaning the symbol of the Red Cross when the ambulances drove to the gas chambers loaded with those who were to be gassed and the gas itself. No doctor ever objected to this. Even the ever-sensitive Dr. Wirths never brought the subject up with me, and I myself never gave it a thought either.477

    In a separate report on the institutional structure of Auschwitz, Höss once again discussed the role of Dr. Wirths and his colleagues in the Holocaust.

    Aside from the customary medical duties, the SS doctors of Auschwitz pursued the following activities:

    1. According to Himmler’s guidelines, they had to select males and females from the incoming transports of Jews who were able to work.

    2. The doctors had to be present during the extermination process in the gas chambers to supervise the prescribed application of the poison gas Cyclon B by using the disinfection fixtures. Furthermore they had to make certain after the gas chambers were opened that the extermination process had been completely carried out.

    3. The dentists continuously had to conduct spot checks to make certain that the prisoner dentists of the Sonderkommando pulled all the gold teeth from the gassed and dropped them into a special security container. Furthermore they had to supervise the melting of the gold teeth and their safekeeping until delivery to the proper SS branch was made.478

    In a long essay on Heinrich Himmler and his role in the development of Auschwitz, Höss provided much detail about Himmler’s crucial two-day visit to Auschwitz of July 17 and 18. Höss recorded that the Reichsführer-SS was briefed on the progress of the design of the settlement and the I.G. Farben complex, that he visited the Stammlager, Birkenau, and the various agricultural and industrial operations in the camp’s Zone of Interests. As a special treat he witnessed the first day the complete extermination process of a transport of Dutch Jews which had just arrived. “He also looked on for a while during a selection of those who would work and those who would die without any complaint on his part. Himmler made no comment about the extermination process. He just looked in total silence.”479 Höss noted that he desperately tried to focus Himmler’s attention on all the various unresolved issues, which included the problem of the waste water treatment which continued to be an irritant between the camp and the province, but Himmler shrewdly managed the situation in such a way that Höss had no opportunity to complain. He decided not to stay the night in Höss’s house, where he would have been subject to his subaltern’s petitions, but in the official Kattowitz residence of the Gauleiter Bracht of Upper Silesia. Politesse demanded that he invited Höss for dinner, but to ensure that neither the Kommandant nor the Gauleiter would have any opportunity to raise difficult issues, Himmler insisted that the respective spouses would join them. According to Höss it was a pleasant gathering.

    He was in a very good mood that evening; charming and very talkative, especially with the two ladies, the wife of the Gauleiter and my wife. He discussed every topic that came up in the conversation: the raising of children, new houses, paintings and books. He told about his experiences with the Waffen SS divisions at the front lines and about his front line inspection tours with Hitler. He carefully avoided mentioning, even with a single word, anything that he had seen during the day or any matters concerning official business. Any attempt by the Gauleiter to bring business into the conversation was ignored by Himmler. We broke up quite late. Himmler, who usually drank very little alcohol, that evening had a few glasses of red wine and smoked, which was another thing he didn’t usually do. Everyone was captivated by his lively stories and cheerfulness.480

    The next morning Himmler had a private discussion with Bracht about some questions concerning the resettlement program in Upper Silesia, and after that was picked up by Höss for the second part of his visit to Auschwitz. A man with a great sense of chivalry, Himmler had a special interest in the treatment of women prisoners. Thus he watched the beating of a woman prisoner (“a professional criminal and prostitute”)and pardoned some Polish women who had been imprisoned for minor offenses. Just before he stepped in the car Himmler instructed Höss to increase the capacity of Auschwitz-Birkenau from 100,000 to 200,000 inmates. Acknowledging Höss’s difficulties he said that “I cannot change a thing about it. You will have to see how you can cope with it. We are in the middle of a war and accordingly have to learn to think in terms of that war.” And he added to this another instruction.

    Eichmann’s program will continue and will be accelerated every month from now on. See to it that you move ahead with the completion of Birkenau. The Gypsies are to be exterminated. With the same relentlessness you will exterminate those Jews who are unable to work. In the near future the work camps near the industrial factories will take the first of the large numbers of able-bodied Jews; then you will have room to breathe again here. Also, in Auschwitz you will complete the war production facilities. Prepare yourself for this. Kammler will do his very best to fully support you concerning the construction program. The agricultural experiments will be pushed ahead intensively, as I have the greatest need for the results. I saw your work and your accomplishments. I am satisfied with them and I thank you. I hereby promote you to lieutenant-colonel.481

    Despite his promotion, Höss was less than happy with the visit.

    As he was completing his essays, Höss faced justice. On January 11,1947, Höss testified in Cracow before Judge Jan Sehn and Edward Pechalski, Vice Prosecutor of the Court of Appeal in Cracow, about the structure and operation of concentration camps in general, and Auschwitz in particular.

    The only German camps possessing the full rights of a concentration camp [Konzentrationslager or KL] were those with a political department [Politische Abteilung] headed by an officer of the Reich Security Main Office [RSHA]. Such camps were admission camps [Einweisungslager], that is camps that could admit prisoners directed by RSHA and its regional posts, release prisoners in accordance with RSHA decisions and transfer prisoners to other camps. Most of these proper camps had many branches satellite camps in the area. For these branches, usually called labour camps [Arbeitslager or A.L], the concentration camp functioned as the main camp [Stammlager]. Administratively the prisoners of these labour camps were counted as part of the main camp. Each main camp served its surrounding region as an admission camp. As such, the concentration camp in Auschwitz served the General Government and Silesia, until the camp in Gross-Rosen became independent. From that time Auschwitz only served Upper Silesia and the Sudeten.482

    After a lengthy description about the way the camps operated as an instrument of political terror within Germany, Höss stated that after the war began the role of the camps expanded to include political opponents from the conquered countries.

    All of them were treated as enemies of the German State. Accordingly, the camps were organised so that most of these enemies were to die in them. Neither Himmler nor any of his helpers ever said it clearly. Yet they used to create such living conditions for prisoners in the camps that this order, unspoken officially, was practically fully executed in the camps. The proof that it was his and the Reich leadership intention is a fact that in the cases where some prisoner groups, whose life he cared for, were an issue, he was doing everything so that they were not destroyed in concentration camps. This applies, for example, to the Aryan prisoners from North-European countries, that is Norway and Denmark.483

    Höss testified that, above and beyond the normal task to imprison political opponents, Auschwitz had been given an extra function: “it became the place of mass destruction of Jews of all nationalities and from all countries conquered by the Third Reich.”

    This second role of the Auschwitz camp I have described in details in my essay where I call the camp a place of destruction [Vernichtungsanstalt] in connection with its function within the action to exterminate the Jews [Judenvernichtungsaktion]. During the war waged by the Third Reich this extermination action expanded according to the following stages. In the first period of the war Einsatzkommandos consisting of RSHA officers and police members followed German armies. These Einsatzkommandos were commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Ohlendorf and were to clean occupied area from hostile elements. Therefore their first victims were Jews, who were gathered into groups and exterminated on the spot. The next stage were actions carried out by in Poznan by the Higher SS and Police Leader von Alvensleben and in Lublin and, after the war with Russia began, in the adjacent eastern districts by the SS and Police Commander Globocnik. Both Alvensleben and Globocnik set up extermination places for Jews that were subordinated to them: Alvensleben in Chelmno (Kulmhof)and in Grudziaz, and Globocnik in Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka, and Lublin.484

    According to Höss, an important advantage of these extermination camps over the shootings by the Einsatzgruppen was the possibility to recover and exploit the personal property of the victims. “He used to deliver valuables looted in the progress of the action to Himmler.” Yet the camps operated by von Alvensleben and Globocnik had no excess capacity to deal with the Jews from countries other than Poland, “Himmler summoned me in the summer of 1941 and ordered me to prepare in Oswiecim instruments of destruction that could be used in this action.”

    I took up this task, details of my activities in this field I have described in my essay I have submitted and in the essay about Eichmann’s activity. I request to enclose this essay to the current report. The second function, conducting the action of extermination of Jews in the Auschwitz camp, I fulfilled in this camp on the basis of Himmler’s verbal order, at the same time fulfilling officially functions of the SS Garrison Commander and the Commandant of the camp in Auschwitz. I held these positions since May 1940 till the end of November 1943.

    On the 1st of December 1943 I was transferred from Auschwitz to the post of the chief of the DI office at the Main Economic-Administrative Office of the SS [SS-WVHA] in Berlin-Oranienburg. It was the political department of the SS-WVHA. As the chief of the department I took care of all matters concerning the concentration camps of interest to the RSHA. After I left the commandant’s post in Auschwitz, the extermination of the Jews continued to be carried out in that camp. It was directed by my successor on the post of the garrison chief and camp commandant, SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel, who held this position until the beginning of June 1944. Under his management the liquidation of Jews coming in transports proceeded inefficiently. Therefore, in the beginning of June 1944, Pohl sent me to Auschwitz to improve the action and adjust it to the plan set by RSHA. In 1944 I directed this action in June, July and August. In this period of time, because of seniority I was officially the garrison chief in Auschwitz. Baer was already the commandant of Auschwitz I, Kramer of Auschwitz II, and Schwartz of Auschwitz III. I finally left Auschwitz at the end of August 1944. Kramer, as the commandant of the camp Auschwitz II where instruments of destruction were concentrated, co-operated with me in the June to August period in the action of exterminating the Jews. After my final departure Kramer continued the action until November 1944, when Himmler forbade further extermination of Jews. He issued this ban as a result of negotiations with the Jewish representatives, among them were envoys of the Zionists leader Weissmann. Becher in Budapest, in Switzerland and Turkey carried out the negotiations. They were based on the idea the Jews were to deliver various goods in exchange for Jews Germans kept. Because foreign Jews representatives demanded immediate stop to the destruction actions, German side prolonged the negotiations as much as possible to win some time and annihilate as many Jews as possible. Only in November 1944, Himmler finally acceded to the condition given by the Jewish representatives, that is to immediate stop the action, only in November 1944.485

    In his testimony, Höss addressed the question concerning the number of victims.

    One man- Eichmann, had all notes concerning the number of Jews destroyed in the action I have described. I cannot give figures for Auschwitz because I did not use to record them. I was acting in accordance with Himmler’s order. Just before the breakdown of the Reich in April 1945, I was present when Eichmann gave a report to Glücks on the number of Jews destroyed and killed. I remember precisely that Eichmann gave a figure of 2 1 /2 million for Auschwitz. In the same report he said to Glücks that in the course of anti-Jewish action in Auschwitz, some 25 — 30% of all newcomers were selected as fit for work, and were not annihilated immediately. I stress that all arriving Jews selected as fit for work, and kept in the camp, were registered and included in camp evidential number series. However I cannot explain if they were numbered only in A and B series or in the general male and female series as well. As I recall, Jewish numbering series A and B were introduced only in 1943. I suppose Jews who came previously were numbered in the general series. Hungarian Jews, Polish Jews from Upper Silesia and the General Government, French Jews, German Jews and Jews from Theresienstadt, Dutch, Slovakian, and Greek Jews, and smaller groups of Jews of various other nationalities such as Yugoslavia and Russia were annihilated in mass actions in Auschwitz. I mentioned the nationalities in order of number of victims. The largest quota of registered prisoners who were imprisoned in the camp, and not brought to the camp for extermination, were Aryan Poles. Reich Germans and Czechs were the next largest categories. There were smaller numbers of Yugoslavs, French, Belgians, Germans, Italians, Latvians, Russians, Lithuanians and Spanish in the Auschwitz camp. Moreover there was a number of Jews with fake passports issued to them by representatives of various South American and other countries from all over the world. I can give neither the general number of prisoners numbered in all series nor the highest figures in each series. I cannot give the figure of victims from among numbered prisoners.486

    Höss testified that he has done all he had confessed out of a sense of duty towards his superiors. Yet he confessed that he often had felt doubts.

    Many times in the course of action of mass destruction of Jews I wondered if some Providence exists and if yes, how it is possible such things may happen. Nevertheless I was present everywhere, both at the coming transports reception and at gassing in gas chambers and corpses cremation, trying to set an example to my subordinates and avoid accusation of requiring something I run away from myself.487

    At the end of his testimony, Höss summarized his activities in life and his activities in point form.

    I admit the following facts:

    1. Since November 1922 until Germany’s downfall in 1945, I was a member of the National Socialist German Workers Party.

    2. Since June 1933 until the downfall of the Third Reich in 1945, I was a member of the SS, reaching at the end the rank of SS-Obersturmbannführer.

    3. From May 1940 until the end of November 1943, I fulfilled the functions of commandant of the concentration camp in Auschwitz, and SS-garrison commander.

    4. From December,1,1943 until the downfall of the Reich, I fulfilled functions of chief of DI office in the Main Economic-Administrative Office of the SS.

    5. Since the summer of 1941 I prepared, and since January 1942 I directed the action of mass killing of Jews in extermination installations of the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

    6. During my activity in Auschwitz millions of people died there, and I am unable to establish their exact number.

    7. In Auschwitz, these victims were robbed of their possessions, the value of which I am even now not able to estimate approximately.

    8. According to the rules in force, as the commandant of the camp I was solely and fully responsible for everything that took place in the camp. All issues not mentioned in the deposition and discussed in essays I drew up, I consider essential supplement to the content of this deposition and I ask to enclose these essays to the depositions of this interrogation.488

    Höss had testified in German, which had been translated in Polish. The Polish text was retranslated into German, and approved by Höss. “The whole content of the protocol before me has been translated into German. The record presents my deposition both literally as well as to its meaning. In endorsement, I personally sign the protocol.”489

    Cross-examined during his trial, Höss went into greater detail about many of the issues he had discussed in his deposition on the Final Solution.

    Höss: “On the basis of those reports, Reichsführer-SS Himmler ordered that I was to personally carry out this action in Auschwitz. In his program Eichmann had envisioned a schedule of four trains every day. This was, however, not feasible despite the development of all existing installations. For that reason, I personally travelled to Eichmann in Budapest to annul this order. We solved the matter as follows: one day two trains, and the next day three trains were to leave for Auschwitz. I remember precisely that the schedule, negotiated with the railway authorities in Budapest, anticipated a total of 111 of such trains. Nevertheless, when the first transports arrived in Auschwitz, Eichmann came also in order to find out if it wouldn’t be possible to send more trains: the Reichsführer-SS demanded that the Hungarian action was to be accelerated.”

    Prosecutor Siewierski: “Let the defendant explain it more clearly: after your return to Auschwitz, did you give any orders of technical nature to speed up the gassing and incineration of Jews?”

    A.: “I remember that we accelerated the expansion of the railway station inside the camp with its siding consisting of three tracks. Furthermore we reactivated the open-air cremation site known as installation 5. We also reinforced the squads who were to sort the luggage of the deportees. It took between four and five hours to unload a train–people and all their luggage–and there was no way to do it faster. People could be dealt with within this time, but the luggage was accumulating in such quantities that this forced us to abandon the idea to increase the number of transports. Even as we added another 1,000 additional inmates to the squads sorting the luggage, there was no way to speed up the action. We had not enough space to store all these things, and this is why we failed in our effort to faster send out of the camp all the clothing and belongings these people had brought to Auschwitz. No improvements could be made to the crematoria. After eight to ten hours of operation the crematoria were unfit for further use. It was impossible to operate them continuously. As Eichmann had mentioned that we should expect by the end of the year 1944 and in 1945 more transports, we planned a larger crematorium. It was to be a huge, circular brick furnace, to be built underground. Due to lack of time, it was never designed.”

    Q.: “When the defendant came to supervise the action, did you consider Moll–the chief of the crematoria–to be the right man in the right place, or did the defendant have to give further orders?”

    A.: “When I came to Auschwitz, Moll worked in some satellite camp. I withdrew him from that camp, and assigned him to the cremating kommando–the one burning prisoners in the open air. The previous chief could not handle it.”

    Q.: “And Moll could?”

    A.: “Yes. He proved capable.”490

    Given Höss’s full confession, it was no surprise that the court convicted him for mass murder. Remarkably, however, the court did not accept the number of four million victims mentioned in the Soviet Report, and assumed in the indictment. In its judgement, the court stated that Höss had participated in the murder of “an indeterminate number [of victims], but certainly no less than 2,500,000, mostly Jews, brought in transports from various European countries for the purpose of immediate extermination, and therefore not officially registered.”491

    Waiting for his execution, Höss wrote a 224-page long and detailed autobiography that expanded on his earlier statements made. Höss described how systematic mass killing in the camp began in the summer of 1941, with the arrival in Auschwitz for execution of Soviet prisoners-of war identified as political commissars. The first experiments with hydrogen cyanide as a killing agent were done on these people. Höss recalled that he instructed Lagerführer Karl Fritsch, who was responsible for the liquidation of the Soviets and was also in charge of the fumigation of the camp and the disinfection process in the extant gas chambers in Blocks 3 and 26, to carry out a pilot experiment. Fritsch obliged with a transport of Soviet prisoners-of-war whom he took to Block 11 and locked into a basement cell. Fritsch threw Zyklon-B crystals into the room and all the men died.

    Encouraged by his success, ritsch conducted the first mass execution with Zyklon-B on 3 September.

    I viewed the killings wearing a gas mask for protection. Death occurred in the crammed full cells immediately after the gas was thrown in. Only a brief choking outcry and it was all over. This first gassing of people [which Höss witnessed] did not really sink into my mind. Perhaps I was much too impressed by the whole procedure.492

    Höss recorded that, shortly thereafter, they transformed the morgue of crematorium 1 into a gas chamber. Fritsch’s men punched three square portholes through the morgue roof and covered them with tightly-fitting wooden lids. The murder of 900 Soviets inaugurated the new gas chamber. “The entire transport fit exactly in the room,” Höss recalled. “The doors were closed and the gas poured in through the opening in the roof. How long the process lasted, I don’t know, but for quite some time sounds could be heard. As the gas was thrown in some of them yelled ‘Gas!’ and a tremendous screaming and shoving started toward both doors, but the doors were able to withstand all the force.” A few hours later the fans were turned on and the doors opened. “I really didn’t waste any thoughts about the killing of the Russian prisoners of war,” Höss confessed. “It was ordered; I had to carry it out. But I must admit openly that the gassings had a calming effect on me, since in the near future the mass annihilation of the Jews was to begin.”493

    I could go on quoting from Höss’s autobiography, but as it substantially confirms everything he had said in his essay on the Final Solution, I will stop here.

    This brings to an end Part Two of my report. It will be clear that, by early 1947, there was a massive amount of evidence of the use of the camp as a site for mass extermination. This evidence had become slowly available during the war as the result of reports by escaped inmates, had become more substantial through the eye-witness accounts by former Auschwitz inmates immediately after their liberation in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, and was confirmed in the Polish forensic investigations undertaken in 1945 and 1946. Finally, this evidence was corroborated by confessions of leading German personnel employed at Auschwitz during its years of operation.

    It is, in other words, highly implausible that knowledge about Auschwitz was a war-time fabrication by British propagandists. Instead, the material brought together in Part Two shows that knowledge about Auschwitz emerged cumulatively from a convergence of independent accounts, acquiring an epistemological status located somewhere in the realm framed on the one hand by a judgement that knows a fact “beyond reasonable doubt,” and on the other hand by the always receding horizon that promises unqualified certainty. In short, it has become possible, on the basis of the material presented and discussed sofar, to assert as “moral certainty” the statement that Auschwitz was an extermination camp where the Germans killed around one million people with the help of gas chambers.


    VI Blueprints of Genocide

    Things of several kinds may admit and require several sorts of proofs, all which may be good in their kind. The Philosopher has long ago told us [Aristotle, Eth. Lib. 1, cap. 3; Metaph. lib.1, cap ult.], that according to the divers nature of things, so must the Evidences for them be; and that ’tis an argument of an undisciplined wit not to acknowledg this. He that is rational and judicious will expect no other kind of Arguments in any case than the subject-matter will bear….All things are not capable of the same kind of Evidence….And as for matters of fact, concerning Times, Places, Persons, Actions, which depend upon story and the relation of others, these things are not capable of being proved by such scientifical Principles as the others are….From whence I infer this, That it is not, ought not to be, any prejudice to the Truth or Certainty of any thing, that its is not to be made out of such kind of proof, of which the nature of that thing is not capable, provided it be capable of satisfactory proofs of another kind.

    John Wilkins, Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion494

    When in late 1944 the Germans closed and dismantled the Auschwitz gas chambers and, shortly thereafter, dynamited the crematoria and burned the camp archives, they did so in order to destroy all immediate material evidence of what the camp had been between 1942 and 1944. And at the same time allied bombers completed the destruction of primary evidence in successfully bombing SS offices in Berlin. As a result, any historian who seeks to reconstruct the development and operation of Auschwitz as an extermination camp had to rely in perhaps a greater measure than he or she would feel comfortable with on what Marc Bloch identified as “intentional evidence”–narrative sources such as testimonies, confessions, memoirs and so on. Following Bloch’s definition, all these accounts are “consciously intended to inform their readers.”495 While very important as a historical source, the problem with intentional evidence is that the historian always should assume the possibility that it might have been created to mislead us. As we have seen in Part Two, there is sufficient corroboration between the testimonies of survivors taken during and immediately after the war, the confessions of SS men in 1945-46, and Höss’s memoirs of 1946-47 to get a rather good idea of what happened in Auschwitz when. But the general absence of “non-intentional evidence,” the “evidence of witnesses despite themselves,”496 is troubling. One would like to have possession of the documents produced by the Kommandantur or the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin that are contemporary to the use of Auschwitz as a killing center and that were produced as part of that operation.497 Of course, it was a limited problem, because trained historians generally do not fall in the fallacy of negative proof, in which they sustain a factual proposition (for example “Auschwitz was not purposefully operated as an extermination camp …”) merely by negative evidence (“… because there are no official German wartime documents that prove that Auschwitz was purposefully conceived and operated as an extermination camp.”). But still, even if every historian knows that most evidence does not survive, and that any reconstruction of any historical event is based on accidentally preserved relics, it would have helped if the archive of the Auschwitz Political Department, which coordinated the arrival of the deportation trains with the Kommandantur, had survived. “It would have helped,” but it is not crucial. As Bloch observed, “the variety of historical evidence is infinite.” Not only testimony, but everything that people produce can be used as evidence, if it can be made to correspond to allied evidences. Therefore Bloch rightly observed that one should not expect that a particular historical question–for example if Hitler ordered the Holocaust or that there were homicidal gas chambers in Auschwitz–can only be proved by turning up an actual Führer Decree to that effect signed by Hitler or a blueprint showing a building or room designated as “gas chamber.”

    It would be sheer fantasy to imagine that for each historical problem there is a unique type of document with a specific sort of use. On the contrary, the deeper the research, the more the light of the evidence must converge from sources of many different kinds.498

    Indeed: the single-most important Auschwitz archive that did survive the war–that of the Central Construction Office–offers important if not always straightforward evidence that has at least the virtue of freeing us from a complete reliance on the words of witnesses, evidence that can be forced to speak.

    The survival of a significant part of the documents the Auschwitz Central Construction Office produced during the war is accidental. When the Germans burned the archives of the camp Kommandantur prior to their evacuation from Auschwitz in January 1945, the archive of the construction office, some three hundred yards away from the Kommandantur, was overlooked and remained intact. The reason that the SS forgot it was simple: the construction office had been closed for some time, and no-one was left in the building, and so no-one warned the men charged with the destruction of the evidence that there was a lot of architectural material that could be incriminating. And so the building archive survived. There is no similarly complete archive from any other concentration camp, and none of the administratively less complex Operation Reinhard death camps under the control of Odilo Globocnik (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka) generated such documents.

    Building at Auschwitz both in the concentration camp and in the town was subject to normal civilian procedures as well as to the wartime superstructure of special permissions. Multiple copies of many documents survive with the comments and signatures of the individual bureaucrats or businessmen to whom they were sent. The Building Office generated a wide paper trail: plans, budgets, letters, telegrams, contractors’ bids, financial negotiations, work site labour reports, requests for material allocations, and the minutes of meetings held in the Building Office among the architects themselves, with camp officials, and with high-ranking dignitaries from Berlin. These papers tell us a great deal. They elucidate the thinking in the Auschwitz Kommandantur and, to some extent, at SS headquarters. Every decision Himmler took with regard to Auschwitz, or Kommandant Höss took about the camp over which he reigned, had implications for the physical site. If prisoners were to be shipped in, barracks were needed; if the deportees’ goods were to be claimed for the Reich, storehouses were required. If masses of people were expected to die, incinerators to burn their bodies were essential.

    As a source of historical material, the archives of the Central Construction Office are very important. But it is also important to remember that during the war the architects who produced the documents that are part of that of that archive were told to apply self-censorship when writing things down that related to the genocide in the camp. On January 21, 1972, the architect Fritz Ertl, who had been employed at the Auschwitz Construction Office until early 1943, testified in court in Vienna about the genocidal use of the crematoria. The first time that he was informed about the use of Auschwitz in the Final Solution was in the summer of 1942.

    Then I talked with an employee of the Political Department who was in private life a judge. He then told me something. Normally one would not have dared to talk while on duty, because one had to fear to be punished for that. I remember that Mrs. Bischoff complained about an officer who had jokingly called Goebbels as “Jupp.” This judge has enlightened me. That must have been in the summer of 1942. He came from Hamburg and later fell on the front. Auschwitz, so he told me, is an extermination camp. Many people were to be executed, that means condemned by court martials. Then he indicated through reference to the Jewish Problem that larger exterminations were to come. He counselled me to find ways to quickly get out. He himself left somewhat later, and fell in Russia. This statement was for me a warning, I was shocked and enraged. This conversation took place at the time that construction began of the crematoria. This I used as an occasion to ask for a transfer. Bischoff yelled at me and told me that he was not prepared to consider this.499

    A little later Ertl commented that the new crematoria were necessary “because of the special actions.”500 When asked if he knew what the word “special measures” meant, Ertl told the court that he knew the significance.501 Then Ertl commented on the notorious letter that contained the word “Vergasungskeller.”

    At this time I was not anymore in Auschwitz. In my personnel dossier it is recorded that I left Auschwitz on January 25, 1943. I did not get a copy of this letter.

    The only names it is copied to are “Janisch” and “Kirschneck.”

    In this letter one talked quite openly, which is clear from the use “gassing basement.”

    The reference sign is “Bischoff.” I can imagine that he has written this himself. I had received the order of Bischoff that I could never write the word “gassing.” I always had to circumscribe it.

    Concerning the question of the chairman of the court if Bischoff had directly told Ertl that he could not write that, or if this order had come from higher up, the accused Ertl gave the following statement:

    I believe that Bischoff pointed out to me, that the word “gassing” should not appear. It is also possible that once such an order has come from higher up. I can’t remember that now. However, because this word “gassing” was always circumscribed, with “special action” or “special measure,” I am convinced that this was ordered. I am surprised that Bischoff used this word “gassing basement” himself. Because higher up always used the word “special action,” I also used it so. I adopted that term.502

    An important document in the archive confirms Ertl’s statement. On August 19, 1942 Ertl chaired a meeting in which members of the Central Construction Office discussed with Engineer Kurt Prüfer of Topf and Sons the creation of four crematoria in Birkenau. Item 2 mentioned the construction of two triple-oven incinerators near the “Bathhouses for Special Actions”–“Badeanstalten für Sonderaktionen.”503 These were the gas chambers also known as bunkers 1 and 2. On January 21, 1972 Ertl testified in court that, when he wrote down the words “bathhouses for special actions”–“Badeanstalten für Sonderaktionen,” he knew exactly what this euphemism meant. “I knew at the time, that this concerned gassing spaces.”504

    So what can we learn from the archive. First of all, the archive contains some copies of paper-work that was in general circulation among the various departments in the camp, and which more than hint at the possibility that Auschwitz was not a normal concentration camp. One such document is a copy of a pep-talk given by Oswald Pohl, the business administrator of the SS, to senior SS personnel during his visit to Auschwitz on September 23, 1942.

    During today’s observations I have silently noticed that you have an ideal inner relation to the issue at stake and an ideal attitude towards the tasks at hand. This conclusion is especially necessary in relation with the issues and the special tasks, about which we do not have to speak words–issues that belong however to your responsibilities. I observe that you do your duty from an inner obligation and this is the precondition for results.

    There remains a very large field of action ahead, on which we may create furthermore great values. In this respect you have ahead of you a wide and vast terrain.

    In the last months I have made many of these inspections, and I am pleased to state here that Auschwitz significantly transcends everything else. I have noted a very good relationship between men, NCO’s and officers, and I call upon you to remain conscious of your responsibility in this matter.

    I would like to remind you about the importance about the tasks set by the Reichsführer-SS, tasks that will be very important for the time when we will have achieved the final victory. Even when you are not with the fighting troops, your tasks do not demand less from you, tasks the importance of which will only be recognized in the time after the victory. It are those tasks that on the other hand put great pressure on each individual, pressures that are equal to those faced by the fighting troops on the front.505

    In what way was Auschwitz vastly different from other concentration camps? In what way could the job of a concentration guard be compared to that of a soldier in the field? It is obvious that Pohl referred to the so-called “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” that, shortly before, had become an official part of the operation of Auschwitz.

    The archive contains very few documents like the report of Pohl’s speech. Most of the documents concern construction. One approach to them would be to look for what one could call “linguistic slips” like Bischoff’s use of the noun “Vergasungskeller” in the letter of January 29, 1943. The basic assumption that guides such an investigation is that the men of the Central Construction Office had been instructed, as Ertl declared in court, not to make any specific references to gas chambers as gas chambers, and so on. One researcher, Jean-Claude Pressac, spent considerable effort in the 1980s trying to find such “slips” or “criminal traces,” and he came up with 39 of them –one of each step.506 For a full discussion of these “slips” I refer to Pressac’s work. Here I will review only those few of which I have good illustrative material.

    Before I present some of these “slips,” it is good to note that the documents in which they occur are bound together and numbered consecutively in the original German files. It is obvious from the condition of these files that the archive was not tampered with.

    The first “slip” is the occurrence of the word “Vergasungskeller” in Bischoff’s letter of January 29, 1943.

    The planks from the concrete ceiling of the cellar used as a mortuary could not yet be removed on account of the frost. This is, however, not very important, as the gassing cellar [Vergasungskeller] can be used for that purpose.507

    From the context it is clear that the word “Vergasungskeller” refers to a space that is indicated in the blueprints as morgue 1–Leichenkeller 1. It is important to note that in the copy of the letter preserved in the Auschwitz archive the word “Vergasungskeller” is heavily underlined with red pencil. That same pencil was used to write, in the upper margin of the letter, the following: “SS-Ustuf (F) Kirschneck!” It is clear from the shape of the handwriting and from the very precise designation “SS-Ustuf (F)508 that this note was written by a member of the Central Building Office, and from this we may conclude that same person underlined the word “Vergasungskeller,” marking it for special attention. Obviously, there is an issue that concerns Kirschneck, as behind his name appears an exclamation mark. The issue at stake is, of course, the appearance of the “slip.” Kirschneck was what we call today the project architect of the crematoria, and hence he was responsible for all documentation. The mistake had been noticed, and marked to be brought to his attention.

    The “slip” in Bischoff’s letter is the only one that was picked up at the time, and one can guess why: first of all, as Ertl observed in 1972, it was created by an important man (the chief of the Central Construction Office), writing to an even more important man (the chief of all SS building operations), and was very blunt in mentioning the forbidden reference to gassing. Most other slips were less obvious. They occurred in notes made by civilian builders in timesheets. For example, in the daily timesheets kept by the contractor Riedel and Son from Bielitz (Bielsko-Biala), we find a few slips. On 28 February the foreman fitted gastight windows–“gasdichter Fenster“–in an unspecified space of crematorium 4.509 Two days later he noted that he had “covered the ground with hard fill, tamped [it] down, and concreted the floor in the gas chamber”–“Fußboden Aufschüttungauffühlen, stampfen und Fußboden betonieren im Gaskammer.”510 Then, at various occasions, the fitter Messing of the crematoria-oven manufacturer Topf and Sons mentioned in the timesheets for his work on crematoria 2 and 3 that he had been working in the ventilation system of the “undressing basement”–“Auskleidekeller“–,511 a space obviously located next to the basement used according to Bischoff’s letter of January 29, 1943 as a gassing basement–“Vergasungskeller.”

    All of these “slips” were errors. Certain “slips” could, however, not be avoided. Sometimes the Central Construction Office had to be specific in order to get exactly what they wanted. For example, on February 26, 1943, at 6.20 pm, SS-Untersturmführer Pollok sent a cable, cosigned by SS-Untersturmführer Kirschneck and Jährling, to Topf with the following message: “Send immediately 10 gas detectors as discussed. Send your invoice later”–“Absendet sofort 10 Gasprüfer wie besprochen. Kostenangebot später nachreichen.”512 And then there is a letter sent by Bischoff on March 31, 1943 to the German Armament Works.

    In the letter mentioned above informs you that you must make three gas-tight doors 513 according to the order of January 1, 1943 for BW 30b and 30c,514 following exactly the size and construction of those already delivered.

    At this occasion we remind you of another order of March 6, 1943 for the delivery of a gasdoor 100/192 for morgue 1 of crematorium 3, Bw 30a, which must be equipped exactly in the form and size of the basement door of crematorium 2, located opposite, to be made with a spy-hole of double 8 mm glass with a rubber seal and metal fitting. This order must be considered as very urgent.515

    It is obvious that the contents of this letter square with those of Bischoff’s letter of January 29, 1943. Morgue 1 of both crematorium 2 and 3 are both equipped with a gasdoor with spyhole. This morgue is labelled “gassing basement” in the letter from January 29.

    Most of these “slips” were already picked up by Dawidowski in 1946, and were referred to in the 1972 Dejaco/Ertl trial in Vienna.516 Pressac brought them all together. When I began work on the history of Auschwitz, using among other sources the archive of the Central Construction Office, I did not set out to discover more “slips.” As far as I was concerned, the point had been made. Yet working my way through the material, I did encounter one that had not been noticed before. Before presenting this “slip,” it is perhaps useful to present the reaction it generated in negationist circles. In 199 7 the negationist Journal of Historical Review published an article entitled “How a Major Holocaust Historian Manipulates Facts: Gerald Fleming’s Distortions.” It described the British historian Gerald Fleming as an “internationally prominent Holocaust historian” who, in his Hitler and the Final Solution (1984) “attempted to refute British historian David Irving’s provocative contention that no documentary evidence exists to show that Hitler ordered the extermination of Europe’s Jews, or even that he knew about any such policy or program.” After having observed that “the German-born English-Jewish historian failed conclusively to refute Irving’s thesis,” the article went on to describe Fleming’s involvement with a 1994 BBC movie.

    In 1994 Fleming collaborated with architect Robert Jan van Pelt on a documentary film, “Blueprints of Genocide,” which was broadcast in Britain on the BBC “Horizon” program, May 9, 1994, and in the United States on the NPR “Nova” program, February 7, 1995. During a dramatic high point of the broadcast, van Pelt is shown holding a document while stating: “It says very clearly, ‘You will be able to kill and you will be able to burn simultaneously in this building [Crematory 2]’.” This document, which is not shown to viewers, is actually a simple memorandum of January 29, 1943, not even marked “Secret,” about … electricity supply. It mentions “burning [cremation] with simultaneous special treatment” (“Verbrennung mit gleichzeitiger Sonderbehandlung”). Fleming deceitfully reversed the word order, and rendered “Sonderbehandlung” as “kill.”517

    Commenting on this misrepresentation, Robert Faurisson has written that “the word ‘Sonderbehandlung’ could mean, by its place in the phrase, anything except to kill because this ‘special treatment’ was simultaneous with burning.” Moreover, as Faurisson further noted, it is obvious that if Fleming, or anyone, had actually discovered a wartime German document that clearly says what Holocaust historians have been seeking for decades, it would be publicized everywhere as a discovery of the greatest historical importance.(See: R. Faurisson, “A KGB Novelist: Gerald Fleming,” Adelaide Institute on-line newsletter [Australia], Dec. 1996, pp.23-25.)518

    As the article mentioned, I indeed discussed a letter which I had found after working through many reels of microfilmed documents from the Moscow archives. To understand the historical context of the letter, I will quote here the way Debrah Dwork and I used it in Chapter Ten of our book Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present. The extract covers the months January to April 1943, a time that the Germans did everything in their power to complete the crematoria. The section referring to the document will be printed in italics.

    As construction in the Reich came to a halt, Kammler, Bischoff, Dejaco, and Prüfer did everything in their power to complete the crematoria. Throughout the month of January regular transports arrived from the Bialystock District, the Netherlands, Berlin, and Theresienstadt; the bunkers were hardly able to keep up, and in February Eichmann was forced to divert trains destined for Auschwitz to Sobibor and Treblinka.

    Eichmann then designated the proud, 2,000-year-old Sephardic community of 55,000 Jews in Salonika for immediate liquidation. Salonika and the rest of northern Greece was occupied by German forces, but southern Greece was in Italian hands, and by the end of 1942 the Saloniki Jews had discovered that the Italians were not interested in applying the anti-Semitic policies of their Nordic allies. Increasingly large numbers of Saloniki Jews sought refuge in the south, and the Italians refused to extradite them to the Germans. Eichmann realized he had to act quickly. He knew that the killing station in Auschwitz was working at top capacity, but he also saw that the Operation Reinhard camps, which were neither equipped with crematoria nor with a holding pen for those deportees who could not be killed immediately upon arrival, could not handle the long-distance 3,000-person transports he envisioned.

    Eichmann telephoned Kammler to ask him when the crematoria would be ready. Informed only by Bischoff, who was loathe to admit that construction had fallen two months behind schedule, Kammler reported the current official prognosis: crematorium 2 would be operational on 31 January, crematorium 4 on 28 February, and crematorium 3 on 31 March.

    Unexpected problems in the electricity supply to the buildings caused additional delays. When Bischoff and Dejaco had modified the basement plan of crematoria 2 and 3 to include a gas chamber, they had increased the anticipated electricity consumption of the building. The ventilation system was now simultaneously to extract the Zyklon-B from the gas chamber and fan the flames of the incinerators. They had contacted AEG, the contractor for the electrical systems, but due to rationing AEG had been unable to get the heavy-duty wiring and circuit brakers the system required. As a result, crematorium II was to be supplied with a temporary electrical system; nothing at all was available for use in crematorium 3. Furthermore, the AEG representative in Kattowitz, Engineer Tomitschek, warned the Auschwitz Building Office, the capacity of the temporary system would not allow for simultaneous ‘special treatment’ and incineration.

    The five triple-muffle furnaces in crematorium 2 were test-run on 4 March with the incineration of fifty corpses of men killed in bunker II. At 45 minutes, the incineration took longer than planned: Prüfer thought the furnaces were not dry enough. They were to be heated for a week without being used. In the meantime, his colleagues completed the gas chamber ventilation system. On Saturday 13 March the machinery was ready for a trial run, and 1,492 women, children, and old people, selected from a transport of 2,000 Jews from the Cracow ghetto, were killed in the new gas chamber and burned in the new incinerators. The murder itself took five minutes, but burning the bodies took two days–the managers operated the incinerators at 50 percent capacity to forestall technical failures.

    Erroneously believing all the crematoria to be fully operational, Eichmann dispatched the first transport of 3,000 Saloniki Jews in mid-March. Traversing southeastern Europe via Skopje, Belgrade, Zagreb, Graz, Vienna, and Teschen, the train arrived in Auschwitz on the 20th of that month. Crematoria 3, 4, and 5 were still being built, and crematorium 2 was in the trial stage; it had not yet been handed over by the architects and engineers to the camp authorities. The physicians who conducted the selection that day admitted 417 men and 192 women to the camp, the other 2,191 deportees were designated for immediate liquidation. They would ‘pass through’ crematorium 2, the camp officials decided. It quickly became clear that the building could not handle such numbers at once. Killing was easy, but as the Germans began to work the ovens at full capacity (officially 1,440 bodies per day, that is 96 per muffle or an average of 4 bodies per muffle per hour), they ignored the advice of the AEG Engineer, Tomitschek, and the electrical system caught fire. Both the forced draft system that fanned the incinerator flames and the ventilation system to extract the Zyklon-B from the gas chamber were damaged. The Germans carried on. They would not close down the installation for repair. Trains with 2,000 to 3,000 deportees were leaving Salonika according to schedule, and could not be stopped. In anticipation of these transports, the architects signed off on crematorium 4 on 22 March, without having tested the incinerators. They also tried to repair crematorium 2 and, partly successful, they transferred the crippled system to the camp on 31 March.

    After two weeks of intensive use in the Salonika Action the double four-muffle furnace of crematorium 4 cracked and, after various attempts at repair, the incinerator was de-commissioned in May. Prüfer realized that the overly-centralized structure of the furnace was to blame for the breakdown, and he modified the incinerator of crematorium 5, which was still under construction. It was officially completed on 4 April. Crematorium 2 initially functioned reasonably well, but after a month the internal lining of the smokestack and the connecting flues to the incinerator began to collapse. It was taken out of commission on 22 May for a month of repair work. One would have hoped that, with all these technical failures, the system would have proved less fatal, but such was not the case. Despite the breakdowns, in just two months the camp personnel liquidated over 30,000 members of the Salonika community, and some 7,000 Yugoslavian, German, and Polish Jews.519

    I quoted the context of the AEG document at some length because the document has a specific historical context. When I found the document, I realized as all historians do that as a piece of evidence it is, taken by itself without any context, mute. I had to make it “speak,” determine what it could mean because only then could it be considered to be evidence for something. Like any other piece of evidence it had to be placed where it belongs, and this required knowledge of what was going on at the time, at the building site in Birkenau, in the architect’s office and, in this case, in Greece. Considering the context, it was obvious that the AEG document came into existence when it became clear there would be a delay in the completion of the crematoria, partly caused by the slow arrival of rationed electrical equipment, and when it also became clear that this delay would be in conflict with Eichmann’s schedule of deportations. Our understanding of this context is based on other evidence–in the case of the problems the Germans had in completing the crematoria this evidence consists of the correspondence between the Auschwitz Central Construction Office and Berlin–an exchange of letters that generated among other things the notorious letter dated January 29, 1943 in which Bischoff reported to the Chief Amtsgruppe C, SS-Brigadeführer and General-Major of the Waffen-SS, Dr. Ing. Kammler, on the progress of construction of crematorium 2. In an earlier letter, Bischoff had promised that the crematorium would be completed on January 31. Now he had to break the news gently to his boss that he had not been able to do so.

    The crematorium has been completed–save for minor constructional work –by the use of all the forces available, in spite of unspeakable difficulties, the severe cold, and in 24 hour shifts. The fires were started in the ovens in the presence of Senior Engineer Prüfer, representative of the contractors of the firm of Topf and Sons, Erfurt, and they are working most satisfactorily. The planks from the concrete ceiling of the cellar used as a mortuary could not yet be removed on account of the frost. This is, however, not very important, as the gassing cellar (Vergasungskeller) can be used for that purpose.

    The firm of Topf and Sons was not able to start deliveries of the installation in time for aeration and ventilation as had been requested by the Central Building Management because of restrictions in the use of railroad cars. As soon as the installation for aeration and ventilation arrive, the installing will start so that the complete installation may be expected to be ready for use 20 February 1943.520

    As Bischoff bought himself three more weeks, his aides desperately tried to resolve all the outstanding difficulties. The same day that Bischoff wrote his letter, SS-Unterscharführer Swoboda met with Engineer Tomitschek, and both drafted and signed the following minute of their meeting, which was countersigned by Bischoff.


    re: Electricity Supply and Installation of the KL [Konzentrationslager, or Auschwitz] and KGL [Kriegsgefangenenlager, or Birkenau]

    Conference held on 29.1.43 between the Central Construction Office Auschwitz and AEG-Kattowitz, present:

    • Engineer Tomitschek–AEG and
    • SS-Unterscharführer Swoboda–Central Construction Office

    AEG informs that it has not yet received valid iron and metal certificates in response to its iron and metal request, which were partly already filed in November 1942. Therefore it was not possible for this firm to begin construction on the ordered parts of the installation. There is a great likelihood that, due to the continued delay in the allotment of these requests, delivery will take much longer.

    As a result of this, it is not possible to complete the installation and electricity supply of crematorium 2 in the Prisoner of War Camp [Birkenau] by January 31, 1943. It is only possible to complete the crematorium for operation earliest by February 15, 1943 using materials that are in stock for other building projects. This operation can only involve a limited use of the available machines (whereby is made possible burning with simultaneous Special Treatment), because the main electricity supply to the crematorium is not capable to carry its power consumption. Yet similarly the iron and metal certificates for the overhead line necessary for this have not been issued yet.

    Because of this, it is absolutely impossible to supply crematorium 3 with electricity.

    Tomitschek. Swoboda
    Representative of AEG SS-Unterscharführer Taken note of Bischoff.521

    Considered within the historical context in which it was created, the meaning of the memorandum is unequivocal. Let us now consider the negationist attempt to destroy its evidential value. First of all, I am accused of “deceitfully” reversing the word order of the document when, during the filming of the BBC documentary, I stated that “it says very clearly, ‘You will be able to kill and you will be able to burn simultaneously in this building [Crematory 2]’.” I do admit that in paraphrasing the text in front of the camera, I did reverse the word order, yet reject the allegation that I did so “deceitfully” as the change in word order does not make any difference in the interpretation. The adjective “simultaneous” makes clear that the “burning” takes place at the same time as the “Special Treatment,’ and that the “Special Treatment” takes place at the same time as the “burning.”

    More important, however, is the observation that the document is “not even marked ‘Secret,” a common negationist argument to attack the validity of most pieces of evidence. Their argument is that because the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Problem occurred “in secret,” all documents that relate to it should be marked as “Secret.” It suffers from the fallacy of division, which arises when one argues from the properties of a whole (the general secrecy of the “Final Solution”) to the properties of the constituent parts of that whole (a discussion about the electricity supply to a crematorium equipped with gas chambers). There is of course no reason to assume that what is true of the whole is true of all the parts, and that evidence for the existence of a largely secret operation may not be derived from parts of that operation that were not secret. In fact, experience shows that the best ways not to attract attention to a secret operation is to not to attract attention to the secrecy, and consequently assign the qualification of “secret’ to as few documents as possible–also in the bureaucracy one hides best in a crowd.

    The negationist attack on the document continued with the observation that Robert Faurisson has written that “the word ‘Sonderbehandlung’ could mean, by its place in the phrase, anything except to kill because this ‘special treatment’ was simultaneous with burning.” In other words, Faurisson argues with his usual literal-mindedness that because the adjective “simultaneous” means “at the same time,” it is impossible that the noun “Sonderbehandlung” refers to killing as one first kills and then burns the body. The problem with Faurisson’s observation is that it ignores the context of the clause “whereby is made possible burning with simultaneous Special Treatment.” If it were an instruction for the Sonderkommando how to kill and incinerate the victims, Faurisson would have a point, but it is not. The context is a discussion about the electricity supply to the crematorium. The problem which Tomitschek and Swoboda discussed was rooted in the circumstance that one needed electricity to operate the ventilation system of the gas chambers. Yet, at the same time that this ventilation system was to extract the hydrogen cyanide from the gas chamber, the crematorium needed electricity to operate the forced-air system to heat the incinerators as they are readied to cremate the remains of the people killed in the gas chambers. In other words, there is an overlap in the electricity consumption of the gas chamber and the ovens, the former still using electricity after the killing has occurred, the latter using electricity before the incineration can commence.

    Then there is Faurisson’s implicit argument: that the context of the letter does not count. I will review the reasons for Faurisson’s refusal to consider context below. Here it is important to note that a basic rule in the interpretation of historical evidence is that any piece of evidence depends upon the context from which it is taken. David Hackett Fisher observed in his Historians’ Fallacies, that “no historical statement-in-evidence floats freely outside of time and space. None applies abstractly and universally.”522 Faurisson did not choose to consider the context, and hence did not apply historical criticism to the text of the memorandum.

    Finally there is Faurisson’s last argument: that if “Fleming, or anyone, had actually discovered a wartime German document that clearly says what Holocaust historians have been seeking for decades, it would be publicized everywhere as a discovery of the greatest historical importance.” In other words, the fact that I did not choose to publicize my discovery “everywhere,” trumpeting it as “a discovery of the greatest historical importance,” suggests that this document probably does not exist, because if it did, it would have been “what Holocaust historians have been seeking for decades.” When, in 1993 I came upon the Tomitschek/Swoboda memorandum, I was pleased to find another small piece of a large puzzle, but in no way thought it to be “of the greatest historical importance.” The reasons for this is that I did not find any reason in the past, nor today, to set my research agenda according to Faurisson’s wishes. In 1979 he proposed in a letter to Le Monde that he wished for a public debate on “the problem of the gas chambers.” Faurisson rejected that there was a “superabundance of proofs that attest to the existence of ‘gas chambers'” and therefore proposed that someone would supply him “with a proof, one single precise proof of the actual existence of one ‘gas chamber,’ one single ‘gas chamber.'” And he concluded his challenge with the exhortation: “Let us examine this proof together, in public.”523

    As a historian I am prepared to state that no single piece of evidence can “prove” the existence of any historical event. Faurisson’s challenge is, from a historian’s point of view, absurd. No piece of evidence is conclusive by itself. Historians reconstruct the past by cross-referencing different pieces of evidence, each of different evidential value. This, however, seems to be unassimilable to negationists like Faurisson and Irving, who continue to throw challenges to academic historians to produce “one single proof.” To understand where they come from, it is necessary to consider, for a moment, the context of Faurisson’s turn to Holocaust denial: his training as a linguist and his adherence as a linguist to the school of literary interpretation known as “New Criticism,” a school that resists a common practice in literary analysis that regard a poem in terms of its author’s biography, and proposes instead that critics ought to read the poems as verbal icons, as autonomous verbal structures, and foreclose any appeal to history, biography, or cultural context. Only by concentrating on “the words on the page,” which meant erecting a cordon sanitaire around the text, could the criticism acquire precision. Faurisson adopted this ontologically grounded aesthetic isolationism, but abandoned its pragmatic aims to encase it in a particularly dogmatic set of rules. The historical, autobiographical and cultural contexts became totally irrelevant for one’s understanding of the text. As Faurisson explained to a Canadian court in the mid 1980s, he refused to establish authorship, or the time it came into being, but instead began with one word, and then proceed to its immediate contexts: the words before and after it, and so on. Faurisson justified this approach because “all of us, we have little brains. We cannot embrace a vast context.”524 Of course, his modesty was only a ruse, because the true implication of his refusal to consider any external evidence was that the only access to truth was now to be Faurisson’s own technique of textual exegesis. This he called the “Ajax Method” because “it scours as it cleans as it shines,” and it centered on the for the analysis of literary texts absurd proposition that while words may have more than one meaning if taken in isolation, they only acquire one specific meaning within a text: “Texts have only one meaning, or no meaning at all.”525

    Faurisson’s work would have remained a footnote in the history of postmodern literary theory if not for his desire to apply the “Ajax Method” to the study of history. Having no professional training in the field, he could only look with contempt at historians who, as he stated in his expert-testimony during the first Zündel trial, habitually fail to “attack” the documents they are using, and instead try to fit those texts into its various contexts.526 In other words, historians sinned against the ground rule of Faurisson’s theory of criticism that nothing should distract from the exegesis of the sacrosanct “word on the page.”

    Faurisson’s attempt to apply his rule of textual exegesis to history is obviously absurd. While the “Ajax Method” may apply to poems–which may be defined as texts in which all that is said or implied is relevant, and everything that is irrelevant has been excluded–it obviously fails when it is applied to practical messages, which are successful if and only if we correctly infer the intention. Hastily written, the Tomitschek/Svoboda memorandum is completely unintelligible as a historical source if one does not know the historical context, which includes the hurry in which the SS tried to complete the crematoria, the difficulty they had in obtaining allocations for building materials, the meaning of the word Sonderbehandlung, the need to fire-up the ovens before they are used, and so on. Faurisson had, however, no qualms to launch his theory of literary criticism into a colonizing drive beyond the boundary of the poetic, and treat historical texts as merely rhetorical, purely discursive operations that have no link to external evidence.

    Probably it is difficult for Faurisson, or for negationists in general, to imagine that there are other and more valid ways of interpreting historical evidence. It is difficult for Faurisson to imagine that not all scholars studying the Holocaust are day and night searching for the “one single proof” that testifies to the existence of the gas chambers without any corroborating evidence. But none is, because history does not need a “single proof” to establish a fact as fact.

    Enough about “single proofs” that in the case of Auschwitz seem destined to appear in “slips.” The real historical importance of the archives of the Central Construction office is not that they prove independent of other evidence that Auschwitz was an extermination camp. In so far as the issue of “proof” is relevant, the archives are important because they provide additional evidence of a “non-intentional” nature that allows us to interpret and cross-examine the “intentional” evidence given by important and informative witnesses such as Tauber and Höss. While the negationists have tried to abuse these architectural documents to narrow down the amount of admissible evidence–nothing is relevant except the wartime document–, we consider them as a means to increase the amount of evidence. For example, when we consider the blueprints of crematorium 2 and use them to reconstruct this building, it becomes possible to follow Tauber’s narrative sentence by sentence. Or when one considers the blueprints of crematorium 4, one can not only study the logical arrangement of the building–with the sequence of three gas chambers (with stoves to pre-heat the rooms during the winter), vestibule and fuel supply for the stoves in the gas chambers, the large morgue, and the cremation part with the sluice, the incineration room with the eight-muffle oven, the coke room and a small office–but also square this with the remaining fragments of the building and eye-witness statements. For example, in the former coke store room of crematorium 1 the Auschwitz museum preserves some of the gas-tight shutters from crematorium 4. The shutters measure 30 cm by 40 cm. In the plan they are indicated as having a size of 30 cm by 40 cm. In an order dated February 13, 1943 they are mentioned “as pieces gas-tight doors of 30/40 cm”–“12 St. Gasdichte Türen cca 30/40 cm.” Obviously, the plan, the bill and the relics coincide. As we have seen, David Olère did depict these gas-tight shutters in his drawings of crematorium 5 and bunker 2. And then there are eye-witness statements of the way these gas-tight doors functioned. Let us quote, once more, part of Tauber’s recollections of crematorium 4. We begin in a room labelled in the plan as “Vorraum“–vestibule.

    Opposite the entrance door in the corridor, there was a door that opened on a room with a window which was the kitchen for the SS working in the crematorium, a kitchen where the dishes were prepared by members of the Sonderkommando. This room was next to that of the Sonderkommando prisoners….The third door in the corridor led to a corridor with a barred window and a door leading to the crematorium yard.

    From this corridor, the door on the right gave access to the first of the gas chambers and that opposite to the smallest of the chambers, communicating by another door with the biggest.

    This corridor, and the three following rooms were used as chambers for gassing people. All had gas-tight doors, and also windows that had bars on the inside and were closed by gas-tight shutters on the outside. These small windows, which could be reached by the hand of a man standing outside, were used for throwing the contents of cans of Zyklon-B into the gas chambers full of people. The gas chambers were about two meters high and had an electric lighting installation on the walls but they had no ventilation system, which obliged the Sonderkommando who were removing the bodies to wear gasmasks. The corpses were dragged along the floor into the access corridor, where the barbers cut off the hair and then into the undressing room, which also served, in this kind of crematorium, as a store room for the corpses. It was a big hall where the bodies were put while the gas chambers were being cleaned up. Then they were taken through the narrow corridor between the undressing room and the furnace room, where at each end a dentist tore out the gold teeth. In the furnace room, there was the room of the head of the Kommando and beside it another one for the rest of the SS.527

    Thus the blueprints help to corroborate eye-witness evidence. They do not, and should not, take the place of it.

    The same applies to, for example, photos of the crematoria. During the construction of the camp, the Central Construction office documented the progress of construction photographically. All these photos were assembled in the so-called Bauleitung Album, which survived the war. One of the photos shows the back of crematorium 2 shortly before its completion. Projecting outwards from the long side of the building one can see the basement space known in the plans as morgue 1. It is not yet covered with earth, and as a result one can easily see (just right of the smokestack of the locomotive in the foreground, the more or less cubical tops of three of the four wire-mesh Zyklon-B insertion columns made by Kula, drawn by Olère, and described by Tauber. Again, by itself the photograph would not be conclusive evidence, but in combination with eye-witness evidence its proves the existence of these columns beyond reasonable doubt.

    Yet sometimes study of the plans and photos help us to reconstruct important elements in the development of Auschwitz as an extermination camp for which there is no eye-witness evidence. For example: all the evidence points to the fact that the Germans changed the purpose of crematorium 2 between its first inception in the fall of 1941 and its final completion in the spring of 1943. At the time of the original design this crematorium was meant to incinerate the corpses of inmates who had died as the result of the “ordinary” violence of concentration camp existence, and the “ordinary” mortality that results from seasonal infectious diseases such as Typhus and Typhoid Fever. By the time it was completed, crematorium 2, and its double crematorium 3, and two other crematoria (4 and 5)were meant to serve the original function and also incinerate the corpses of deportees who had arrived in Auschwitz shortly before to be immediately selected for the gas chambers, and killed. On the basis of ample evidence, we know that by the time of their completion crematoria 2 – 5 were equipped with homicidal gas chambers, and that these were used to kill the vast majority of deportees. Yet how and when did the intended purpose of the buildings change?

    The blueprints and the correspondence that goes with them offer evidence that allows us to understand some aspect of the changing purpose of the crematoria. I will concentrate on two variables: the information the blueprints give us about the evolution of the projected incineration and morgue capacity in Auschwitz between the Fall of 1941 and the Spring of 1943. Independently of other evidence, both numbers are important to assess the intended use of Auschwitz. If Auschwitz, as the Holocaust deniers maintain, was a “normal” concentration camp comparable to Dachau and Sachsenhausen–that is a camp not dedicated to systematic extermination of large transports–then one should expect an incineration and morgue capacity comparable to those “normal” concentration camps. If Auschwitz was more lethal than other concentration camps because of the greater prevalence of infectious diseases, then one should expect perhaps a higher incineration capacity, but certainly a very much higher morgue capacity to provide a buffer between the seasonally fluctuating discrepancy between incineration capacity and mortality. And if it was an extermination camp in which most people were murdered “on command,” then one could expect an arrangement that had a high incineration capacity and a low morgue capacity, as the administrators of the killing process ought to have been able to send only as many people to the gas chambers as the crematoria could handle–assuming that the corpses of those killed would be incinerated within the next 24 hours.

    In the second week of October 1941, shortly after he had begun work on the design and construction of Birkenau, the chief architect of Auschwitz, Karl Bischoff, realized that the existing crematorium of the concentration camp (later to be known as crematorium 1), would not be able to service the prisoner-of-war camp. It had been designed a year earlier to service an inmate population of 10,000. Bischoff summoned Kurt Prüfer, chief crematorium engineer at the firm Topf and Sons in Erfurt, which had supplied the incinerators of the crematorium in the main camp.528 Prüfer arrived in Auschwitz on October 21 and joined Bischoff in a two-day design charette.529 The engineer suggested to combine three incinerating crucibles in a single furnace. As to the location of the crematorium the men determined that it made sense to build it in the main camp across from the administration building and next to the existing crematorium. As a labour pool for the construction of the city, Birkenau promised to be only a temporary camp, and it would be a waste of money to build a relatively expensive structure such as a crematorium (the whole building Bischoff budgeted for RM [Reichsmark] 650,000530)on a site that was going to revert to farming a few years later.531 It is likely that Bischoff sketched during this meeting the basic arrangement of the plan. The centre was to be a large incineration hall in which five triplecrucible ovens were to be placed side by side. On one end was to be the supply of cokes, and on the other end the storage of corpses. As the incineration hall was to be hot, and the morgue needed to be cold, Bischoff located two vast morgues underground, outside the so-called “footprint” of the building. An elevator was to connect these underground morgues to the furnace hall and the autopsy rooms which were to occupy the space gained by the transfer of the corpse cellars from above-to below ground.532

    Bischoff’s new Chief Designer, Walther Dejaco, elaborated the sketches into a preliminary design. Back in Berlin also an architect under contract with the SS, Georg Werkmann, had a go at it, and he showed a greater skill in uniting practical requirements with certain architectural ambition. Kammler obviously preferred Werkmann’s design over Dejaco’s, approved it in late November, and had it sent to Auschwitz. When it arrived Bischoff, who had arrived on October 1 to head the building of Birkenau, had also become responsible for the construction in the main camp; the Neubauleitung and the Sonderbauleitung KGL had merged into a new organization, officially designated as the Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei, Auschwitz O/S (Central Building Authority of the Waffen-SS and the Police, Auschwitz in Upper Silesia). This office produced from mid-January to the beginning of February 1942 a complete set of blueprints for the new crematorium based on Werkmann’s design of November.533

    As the architects were developing the design Prüfer was busy calculating the implications of his suggestion to unite three large crucibles in one incinerator. It proved to be a difficult problem from a thermo-dynamic perspective. Not only did Prüfer have no experience with triplemuffle furnaces, but he had changed two variables by also increasing the size of each crucible. Relatively straightforward, however, were the implications for the forced-draft system, which was determined at a total extractive power of 40,000 cubic meters per hour. Bischoff had also charged Prüfer to design a ventilation system for the incineration room and the two morgues. The furnace room, the dissection rooms and the larger of the two corpse cellars were to receive a system that only extracted the hot, foul air, while the smaller of the mortuaries was also to receive a system to bring in fresh air from the outside.534

    It is important to note here that there is no indication that either Bischoff or Prüfer envisioned a homicidal use for the smaller morgue in the new crematorium. But the presence of the powerful ventilation system charged the design from its inception with a genocidal potentiality which would only require small modifications in the design to be actualized. Indeed: it was the presence of such a ventilation system in the crematorium of the main camp which, seven weeks earlier, had inspired Lagerführer Fritsch to use the mortuary of the crematorium as an experimental gas chamber.

    Numbers seem to confirm that the new crematorium was not designed to serve the genocidal practices that were to become commonplace in Birkenau a year later. If the purpose of the crematorium had been to serve both as a place for incineration of the inmates and as a execution site and cremation facility for large transports of people brought from outside, then one would expect a cremation capacity that far exceeded the normal oven/inmate ratio prevalent in the other concentration camps which did not serve the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. In 1937 the leaders of the concentration camp at Dachau thought that a single-muffle furnace would do for a camp of 6,240 inmates. At a price of RM 9,250, it required an initial investment of RM 1.48 per person.535 Within a year the envisioned investment per inmate dropped by 50 percent. In the spring of 1939 the total inmate population in Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen had risen from 24,000 to 60,000 as a result of the arrests that followed the Austrian Anschluss in the spring of 1938, the so-called Reichskristallnacht of November 9, 1938, and the December annexation of the Czech Sudetenland. Dr. Grawitz, the chief SS doctor, feared that the overcrowding in the camps would lead to an epidemic and, as a result, increased mortality.536 Also, the regime in the camps had become harsher. Both the overcrowding and the increased violence within the camps focused attention on the problem of corpse disposal. Topf now offered to supply Dachau with a stripped-down mobile furnace with two oil-fired forced-draft muffles with a capacity of two corpses per hour and a price tag of RM 8,750.537 As by now the assumed capacity of the camp had been doubled (by assigning twice as many inmates to the relatively spacious barracks), the capacity remained one muffle per 6,240 inmates. Yet the investment had dropped from RM 1.48 to RM 0.70 per inmate. For Buchenwald Topf calculated a need of one muffle per 5,000 prisoner and an investment of RM 0.90 per inmate.538 The same figures applied to the double-muffle incinerator that Topf built in Auschwitz in the summer of 1940. But in fact Auschwitz had a larger capacity as its furnace was 50 percent more powerful than the Dachau model of 1939.539 Taking this into account, we can say that it counts as a three- muffle oven of the old model. Hence I will designate its capacity as that of three “units,” that is one unit per 3,333 inmates. When later that year a second double-muffle (three-unit) furnace was added alongside the first the total was now four crucibles (six units) for a camp of 10,000, that is one unit per 1,666 inmates. Total investment for incinerators was now RM 1.67 per inmate.540 The remarkably high ratio must be understood in relation to the fact that the crematorium not only served the camp, but also the Gestapo Summary Court from Kattowitz.

    If we compare these numbers with the figures for the Birkenau crematorium it becomes apparent that, assuming that the camp was indeed going to be completed and filled to capacity, one crematorium equipped with five three-muffle furnaces was not an excessive proposition. Topf offered the five furnaces for RM 31,890.541 That is an investment of RM 0.25 per inmate. Also of interest is that Prüfer assumed that one muffle per 8,300 inmates–or 1 unit per 5,555 inmates–would suffice. In other words, neither Bischoff nor Prüfer anticipated in October 1941 the very high mortality rate of the prisoners of war that actually occurred. With a capacity of 15 muffles or 22.5 units for 125,000 inmates, we come to 1 unit per 5,555 inmates, that is less than a third of the capacity of Auschwitz I, and very much in line with Dachau and Buchenwald. At an investment of RM 0.25 per inmate it cost one-sixth of that of the main camp. These figures suggest that the mortality rate for the Soviet prisoners of war was expected to be the same as that for concentration camp inmates in the Reich, and less than that for the Polish inmates in the concentration camp on the other side of the tracks.542 The conclusion must be that the expected mortality rate of the Soviet Untermenschen was not going to be higher than that of the ‘typical’ concentration camp inmates. And there was certainly no extra capacity that could be used for genocidal use.

    A last point that seems to support this conclusion is that as the mortality rate of the prisoners of war began to rise, the plans of the camp were changed. In December 1941 Bischoff ordered the creation of a new master plan, which was completed in the first week of January 1942. Two of the most striking elements of this plan relate directly to the catastrophic conditions. First, it changed the barracks in Building Section II and Building Section III from the original brick to the prefabricated wooden huts that had been designed as horse stables for the Army. As these could be erected with a minimum of labour it implied a significant reduction in the mortality that had occurred with the construction of the brick barracks. Furthermore, at the western edge of Building Section II and Building Section III a new zone was designated which was to include two auxiliary crematoria and ten corpse cellars. The plan was approved on January 6, 1942, and a few weeks later Prüfer returned to Auschwitz to discuss the incinerators to be used. The engineer proposed to equip each with a simplified version of his triple-muffle furnace. Without a compressed air blower, and using only a small amount of iron, they were to cost RM 7,326 each.543 As these were to be built in addition to the large crematorium to be constructed in the main camp, the investment in incinerating capacity had risen to a total of RM 46,542 or RM 0.37 per inmate. With a capacity of 31.5 units the unit-per-inmate ratio had risen from 1 : 5,555 to 1 : 4,000, or 28 %.

    These numbers seem more evolutionary than revolutionary, yet there is another difference from the original plans that gives the whole picture, at least at first inspection, a more sinister aspect: the 10 enormous corpse cellars. In the crematorium already under design, the total volume of the two major morgues (a small third one, included in the January version of the design, was used only “for administrative purposes”) was a little over 50,000 cu. ft. Its capacity was 420 corpses, or roughly 1 corpse per 300 inmates.544 In comparison Sachsenhausen had a morgue capacity of 1 corpse per 50 inmates. The plan of January 6 added another 250,000 cu. ft., to arrive at Sachsenhausen’s capacity of 1 corpse per 50 inmates. In short, this sixfold amplification was meant only to bring the morgue capacity of the camp in line with that found in other concentration camps.

    If we now fast forward to February 1943–a time that Birkenau was fully committed to play its central role in the Holocaust–we see that the numbers have changed considerably. In February 1943 the projected inmate population of Auschwitz was 30,000, and of Birkenau 140,000, but the total incineration capacity which was by that time supposed to be available was 75 units.545 This brings the unit-per-inmate ratio to 1 : 2267. This means that, in comparison with Dachau or Buchenwald, Auschwitz has double the incineration capacity. The official incineration capacity of Auschwitz after the completion of all the crematoria was 4,756 corpses per day.546 Assuming the camps to be completed and fully occupied, this would mean that, on average, Auschwitz had an excess incineration capacity of more than 2,350 corpses per day–or, in other words, the ovens could accommodate two daily transports of 1,000 people easily.

    At the same time morgue capacity had dropped significantly. The ten morgues with a total capacity of 250,000 cu. ft., included in the plan of January 6, 1942, had disappeared from the plan of February 17, 1943, and instead the theoretical morgue capacity in crematoria 1 – 5 was 136,000 cu ft., or 1,150 corpses–that is 1 corpse per 147 inmates, or Auschwitz was to have one third of the normal morgue capacity of a “normal” concentration camp.547 In fact, the situation was much worse, because in February 1943 all the morgues in crematoria 2 and 3 had been redesigned and were being equipped to function as undressing rooms and gas chambers, while the morgues in crematoria 4 and 5 were to destined as undressing rooms. By the time the crematoria were finished, Auschwitz had virtually no permanently dedicated morgue capacity. This is very important: putting it very crudely, a design for a camp with a low incineration capacity and low morgue capacity indicates the expectation of low mortality; a design for a camp with low incineration capacity and high morgue capacity indicates the expectation of high mortality, most likely due to contingent circumstances (epidemics); a design for a camp with high incineration capacity with low morgue capacity indicates the expectation of high mortality, most likely due to humanly controlled circumstances (murder).

    Let me be clear: in the foregoing paragraphs I have not attempted to provide “proof,” on the basis of the changing incineration and morgue capacity alone, of the change from “normal” to genocidal purpose of the Auschwitz crematoria–even if these particular statistics support what we know about the evolution of Auschwitz from a “normal” concentration camp into an extermination camp over the period 1941 to 1943. I hope, however, to have shown that the evidence in the archive of the Central Construction Office can be used to answer many historical questions that transcend the forensic question if the camp was, or was not, an extermination camp. These questions of history are important however. One of the reasons that Holocaust deniers were able to get as far as they did was because, for a long time, no comprehensive history of Auschwitz existed that placed the genocidal function of the camp within the context of all its other purposes. In our Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present Debórah Dwork and I wrote a history, using the archives of the Central Construction Office, which shows that an understanding of the complex historical development of the camp resolves apparent contradictions thrown up by the fact that a seemingly “top-secret” extermination facility existed side-by-side a major industrial project. In short, good history and not “slips” answer the deniers.

    One genre “non-intentional” evidence that has been the object of some discussion in the last twenty years are the aerial photos taken by British Mosquito reconnaisanze airplanes and American bombers of Auschwitz on five dates in 1944. These planes flew over the camps on a bombing run to the IG Farben site east of the town of Auschwitz, and shortly before reaching the target area the cameras which were to provide intelligence and record the damage inflicted were turned on. Because of the relative short distance between Birkenau and the IG Farben site, these cameras unintentionally captured the death camp. One photo, taken on June 26, 1944, shows Birkenau (1), Auschwitz 1 located along the Sola river (2), the Vistula river (3), and the IG Farben building site (6) with at its south-eastern corner the concentration camp Auschwitz-Monowitz (no number indicated–but the site is easily identifiable as it is surrounded on most of its southern and all of its eastern side by a very light coloured patch of land).

    Magnified, these photos allow for easy identification of the various parts of the camp, inclusive the crematoria. Yet what kind of evidence do they provide of the use of Birkenau as an extermination camp? In 1979, in response to the new interest generated by the TV series Holocaust the Central Intelligence Agency released a 19-page report entitled The Holocaust Revisited: A Retrospective Analysis of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex. Written by Dino A. Brugioni and Robert G. Poirier, the report claimed that these aerial photos provide evidence of extermination activities. On the photo taken on August 25, 1944, one could for example see trains in the station of Birkenau with prisoners being marched to crematorium 2 and, in the roof of the gas chamber of that building, “four vents used to insert Zyklon B crystals into the subsurface gas chamber.”548 Yet the group of people alleged to be walking towards the crematorium were still at a large distance from the crematorium, and would not have nesessarily ended up there. The photos do not produce conclusive evidence of exterminations nor do they provide evidence against this–despite some inflated claims by Holocaust deniers.549

    The original CIA analysis was based on study of analog enlargements. With new digital technologies it has become possible, however, to revisit the issue of the evidentiary value of the photos. In April 1996 I visited Los Angeles to meet with Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine, and Alex Grobman, the director of the Martyrs Memorial and Holocaust Museum. Together we went to NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to meet with Dr. Nevin Bryant, Supervisor of Cartographic Applications and Image Processing Applications. One of the world leaders in the analysis of aeaial and satellite images, Dr. Bryant agreed to analyze with his computers the photos, enhancing the date using software programs used by NASA. The most important results were that the four shaded markings on the roofs of morgue 1 of both crematorium 2 and 3 did belong to the original negative, and were not added later on. Furthermore, Dr. Bryant discovered through comparison of various consecutive exposures taken on May 31, 1944 a long line of people moving into the compound of crematorium 5.550 Danuta Czech’s Kalendarium records that, on May 31, 1944, two transports arrived from Hungary, and that from the first one 100 Jews were selected for work. “The remaining people are killed in the gas chambers.” And of the second transport 2,000 Jews are admitted to the camp. “The remaining people are killed in the gas chambers.”551 Why would the Germans have moved a large group of people into the compound of crematorium 5, which was off-limits to inmates, if not to kill them? Yet even here one must remember that, like all the other “non-intentional” evidence, the information derived from the aerial photos should not be considered in isolation.
    A last point must be made, before we leave this short review of what Bloch called the “non-intentional” evidence preserved in the archive of the Auschwitz Central Construction Office. Part of this archive is in Moscow, part is in Oswiecim, in Block 24, right next to the entrance that proclaims “Work Makes Free”–“Arbeit Macht Frei.” About a hundred yards away is another collection of “non-intentional” evidence, relics from the camp that the Germans did not manage to destroy when the evacuated the camp. In Birkenau the Central Construction Office oversaw the erection of 30 storage barracks, right between crematoria 2 and 3 on the south and crematoria 4 and 5 to the north, and visible on all the aerial photos. This part of the camp, called by the inmates “Canada” because of its wealth in goods, stored the belongings of the deportees brought from all over Europe–personal possessions left at the tracks or in the undressing rooms of the crematoria. There a special squad of inmates sorted the goods, and prepared them for shipment for deserving families in the Reich. Late in 1944, when the railroad infrastructure collapsed, these shipments ceased, and the barracks of Canada filled up. Just before their departure from Auschwitz, SS men wishing to destroy evidence, set fire to the barracks. Twenty-nine barracks went up in flames. One only partly burned. Some of the things the Russians found upon the liberation of the camp are now stored in Block 5–as I said about a hundred yards from the building archive.

    Alain Resnais presented these items of “non-intentional” evidence in his justly celebrated Night and Fog. Here, for the record, some lines from the script.

    (Black and White):A mountain of spectacles, combs, dishes and pans, clothing and shoes, scissors, and shaving brushes.

    “Everything was saved. Here are the stockpiles of the Nazis at war. Here are their warehouses.”

    An enormous mountain of gleaming hair rising toward the sky.

    “Nothing but women’s hair…”

    Reams of cloth, its hair surface glistening in the light.

    “At fifteen pfennig the kilo, they made cloth from it.”552


    VII Auschwitz and Holocaust Denial

    Frankfurter: “Dr. Münch, what would you say to those who say today that all of this did not happen, that Auschwitz is a lie, that Auschwitz is a hoax?”

    Münch: “When someone tells that Auschwitz is a lie, that it is a hoax, I feel hesitation to say much to him. I say, the facts are so firmly determined, that one cannot have any doubt at all, and I stop talking to that person because it has no use. One knows that anyone who clings to such things, which are published somewhere, is a malevolent person who has some personal interest to want to bury in silence things that cannot be buried in silence.”533

    Dr.Hans-Wilhelm Münch, former SS doctor in Auschwitz.

    Given the way the memory and image of Auschwitz has become central in the discourse of the Holocaust, it is not surprising that holocaust deniers focus much of their attention on the camp. To understand the centrality of Auschwitz for the negationist cause, it is important to know that one of the very few full confessions given by any German official involved in a key role in the Holocaust concerns the statements Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Höss made in Nuremberg, during his own trial in Warsaw, and the autobiography, accompanied by an essay entitled “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Concentration Camp Auschwitz.” Other key figures in the Holocaust either died before the end of the war (Heydrich), or committed suicide immediately after the German defeat (Himmler), or made less than full confessions (Eichmann). The first instalment of Höss’ confession was available within a year of the end of the war, and his writings were published in the 1950s. As he acknowledged the central role of Auschwitz in the Holocaust, and as he described the organization, development, procedures, and problems of the extermination program in great detail, any attempt to refute the Holocaust must engage and refute Höss.

    A second reason that Auschwitz is the focus of Holocaust denial arises from the historical certainty of the central role of Auschwitz as an extermination centre that arises from the convergence between eyewitness’ accounts, Höss’s writings, the physical remains, the extensive building archive of the Auschwitz Central Building Office (which survived the war) and various other archival sources. The evidence for the role of Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor–sufficient as it may be to come to a moral certainty as to the war-time history of those places–is much less abundant. There are very few eyewitnesses, no confession that can compare to that given by Höss, no significant remains, and few archival sources.

    Given this situation, Holocaust deniers seem to have concluded that it makes strategic sense to concentrate their energies on debunking the Höss account and showing that Auschwitz could not have accommodated an extermination program. Their strategy is explained by the wellknown Holocaust denier Arthur R. Butz who, in 1982, claimed that impartial scientific, forensic and scholarly analysis of the evidence showed that Auschwitz had not been a centre of extermination. “It follows,” Butz argued, “that the basic tactic of the defenders of the [extermination] legend, in controversies to come, will be to attempt to make claims that cannot be tested by the normal method of placing them as hypotheses in appropriate historical context and seeing if they cohere.” According to Butz, those who want to maintain that the Holocaust existed despite the evidence to the contrary would prefer to discuss extermination camps like Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka–places of which little remain in terms of physical or archival relics, and knowledge of which is largely based on witness testimony of survivors like Jankiel Wiernik and post-war confessions of Treblinka commandant Stangl and others. “The consequence,” Butz concluded, “is that it is much easier to disprove the legend as it applies to Auschwitz than as it applies to the others.” For Auschwitz there were the remains of the crematoria, and there were ample archival sources, and these all pointed, as Butz confidently believed he had proved, to a non-genocidal intent and use. Therefore Butz declared that, confronted with Auschwitz, “the defenders of the [extermination] legend are in an impossible position.”

    They cannot concede Auschwitz without conceding the whole issue, for the reason that there is no sort of evidence they offer for the others that is not also offered for Auschwitz. If the “confession” of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss is fanciful, then who will believe the “confession” of Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl? If the Auschwitz accounts of Rudolf Vrba and Miklos Nyiszli are not credible, and their books sick jokes, then who will believe the equally sick Treblinka accounts of Jankiel Wiernik and other obscure people? If the Nuremberg and postwar German trials have not established the truth about Auschwitz, then who will believe that they have established the truth about Treblinka? If the large numbers of Jews admittedly sent to Auschwitz were not killed there, then who will believe that the large number of Jews sent to Treblinka were killed at that camp? My advice, then, to those who would engage in controversy is not to permit the defenders of the legend to get away with ignoring Auschwitz. The fact is that it is very easy to bring down the legend as it applies to Auschwitz and Auschwitz in turn, on account of the nature of the evidence involved, brings down the rest of the legend with it.554

    Butz confidently claims that Auschwitz, seemingly the strongest proof of the Holocaust, is in fact the easiest to attack. Subsequent history has shown that he has a point. In the last fifteen years holocaust deniers have fired a barrage of arguments to show that Auschwitz could not have been an extermination camp, that the gas chambers could not have worked, or that the crematoria ovens could not have incinerated the great number of bodies claimed. Every time they adduce specific technical arguments, which for technological laymen–which is the great majority of us, and includes virtually all students of the Holocaust–are difficult if not impossible to refute. Their arguments are based on the premise that the Holocaust is a hoax created and maintained by sinister forces such as the British Secret Service or some Zionist outfit, or which arose as the result of some mass hysteria of eastern Jews. And they argue that Auschwitz, which was during the war an ordinary concentration and labour camp of extraordinary size, was selected by those same forces or identified by those same hysterics as a death camp equipped with installations for mass extermination. And they see their own task to rip the veil of falsehood and deception. They see themselves as successors of Sherlock Holmes, looking for clues that give access to the hidden truth. Their confidence that they can do so is based on their assumption that the “Hoax” that is the Holocaust centers on the premise that Auschwitz was an extermination camp, and the assumption that Auschwitz was an extermination camp centers on the premise that it was equipped with homicidal gas chambers, and that our knowledge of the gas chambers is based on only a very few and very unreliable sources: mainly hearsay and a few scraps of paper. Therefore, they assume that the whole “legend” will dissolve when one can show one error, one mistake, one inconsistency, or one contradiction.

    The assumption that the discovery of one little crack will bring the whole building down is the fundamental fallacy of Holocaust Denial. It would be a legitimate argument if indeed our knowledge of the Holocaust depended on our knowledge of the extermination installations of Auschwitz, and if the existence and operation of the gas chambers was proved by very few bits of information. This is obviously nonsensical. First of all there is the fact that if we assume the Holocaust to have happened more or less as told, all the evidence becomes intelligible, while if we assume it was a hoax, most of the evidence does not make any sense. When this was the case, the father of “debunkment,” Lord Bolingbroke, counselled to desist and accept a fact as true. “Force your imagination as much as you please, you will find insurmountable difficulties in your way, if you suppose the fact to be invented: but all these difficulties vanish when you suppose it true.”555 Furthermore, our knowledge of the Holocaust depends on tens of thousands of individual pieces of information, many of which have nothing to do with Auschwitz, and if we do consider Auschwitz, then we may safely state that our knowledge of the gas chambers depend on thousands of individual pieces of evidence of different kinds and classes. All those data converge to a conclusion. Even if one can point at erroneous information, inconsistencies and contradictions–normal occurrences in everyday historical practice–this does not mean that these disprove the existence of the gas chambers, or the Holocaust.

    Holocaust deniers have, however, found ways to address this question by trying to deny that there is a convergence of evidence. Michael Shermer described the way they respond to the evidence.

    We have an eyewitness account by a survivor who says he heard about gassing Jews while he was at Auschwitz. The revisionist says that survivors exaggerate and that their memories are unsound. Another survivor tells another story different in details but with the core similarity that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. The revisionist claims that rumors were floating throughout the camps and many survivors incorporated them into their memories. An SS guard confesses after the war that he actually saw people being gassed and cremated. The revisionist claims that these confessions were forced out of the Nazis by the Allies. But now a Sonderkommando–a Jew who helped Nazis load dead bodies out of the gas chambers and into the crematoria–says he not only heard about it, and not only saw it happening, he actually participated in the process. The revisionist explains this away by saying that the Sonderkommando accounts make no sense–their figures of bodies are exaggerated and their dates are incorrect. What about the camp commandant, who confessed after the war that he not only heard, saw, and participated in the process, but that he orchestrated it!? He was tortured, says the revisionist. But what about his autobiography written after his trial, conviction and sentencing to death, when he had nothing to gain by lying? No one knows why people confess to ridiculous crimes, explains the revisionist, but they do.

    No single testimony says “Holocaust” on it. But taking many together the story begins to unfold. And now the revisionist’s defense is beginning to unravel. Instead of the historian having to present “just one proof,” the revisionist must now disprove five pieces of historical data, with five different methods of disproof. But there is more. We have the blueprints for both the gas chambers and the crematoria–huge structures built for processing large numbers of bodies. Those were used strictly for delousing, claims the revisionist, and thanks to the Allies’ war against Germany, the Germans were never given the opportunity to deport the Jews to their own homeland, and instead had to put them into overcrowded camps where disease and lice were rampant. What about the huge orders of Zyklon-B gas? It was strictly used for delousing all those diseased inmates. What about those speeches by Hitler, Himmler, Frank, and Goebbels talking about the “extermination” of the Jews? Oh, they really meant “rooting out,” as in deporting them out of the Reich. What about Eichmann’s confession at his trial? He was coerced. Hasn’t the German government confessed that the Nazis attempted to exterminate European Jewry? Yes, but they lied so they could rejoin the family of nations.

    Now the revisionist must rationalize no less than 14 different bits of evidence that “jump together” to a specific conclusion. But our convergence continues. If six million Jews did not die, where did they go? They are in Russia, and America, and Israel, and scattered throughout the world. But why can’t they find each other? They do–haven’t you heard the occasional stories of long lost siblings making contact with each other after many decades? What about those photos and newsreels of the liberation of the camps with all those dead bodies and starving/dying inmates? Those people were well taken care of until the end of the war when the Allies were mercilessly bombing German cities, factories, and supply lines that were feeding those camps–the Nazis tried valiantly to save their prisoners but the combined strength of the Allies was too much. But what about all those accounts by prisoners of the brutality of the Nazis–the random shootings and beatings, the deplorable conditions, the freezing temperatures, the overwork, etc.? This is war. The Americans put Japanese in camps. The Japanese imprisoned Chinese. The Russians tortured Poles and Germans. War is hell. The Nazis are no different from anyone else.

    Post Hoc Rationalization. We are now up to 18 proofs all converging toward one conclusion. The revisionist is desperately swinging away at them all, steadfastly determined not to give up his belief system. He is relying on what might be called post hoc rationalization–an after-the-fact reasoning to justify contrary evidence. In addition, the revisionist then shifts the burden of disproving all this evidence to the historian by mistakenly demanding that each one of these pieces of evidence independently prove the Holocaust.556

    Indeed, in the case of Auschwitz, it is important when dealing with the arguments of deniers that, despite the claims to the contrary, the onus is on them to make their case. This means, above all else, that they must transcend their nihilist agenda. Despite their claim to be “revisionists,” holocaust deniers have not yet begun to undertake the task of “revising history.” True revisionist history not only destroys an inherited view of the past, but also provides an alternative. For example, Michel Foucault argued in his famous Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) that the Enlightenment ascent from the world of explicit judicial violence enacted on the body had been, in fact, a descent into a closed universe of total surveillance and unrelenting discipline, a world ruled by some cunning, shadowy and ultimately sinister power. Foucault’s argument was shown to be a blatant misconstruction, and as a result we read Discipline and Punish today more for its historical value as a representative of the intellectual climate of the 1970s than for its value as history of the Enlightenment. Yet the fact remains that in its time it offered a revisionist interpretation of the history of punishment that was plausible and therefore was taken seriously. And it could be taken seriously because Foucault had taken the trouble to write a history, that is to offer what seemed at least at first reading to be a narrative in which he put forward his thesis. He created something one could engage with. And he created something one wanted to engage with.

    Up to today holocaust deniers have been unable to produce, in forty years of effort, a counter-narrative to the inherited history of Auschwitz. The deniers claim to be revisionist historians, but they have yet to produce a history that offers a plausible, “revised” explanation of the events in question. Until now, they have had a nihilist agenda. They have attacked the inherited account on the unproven assumption of some general conspiracy, but they have not been able, or willing, to produce serious revisionist historiography that gives us the origin and development of this conspiracy, the reason why and how it seized on, of all places, those very “ordinary” Auschwitz concentration camps as the fulcrum of its effort to hoodwink both gentiles and Jews, to leverage the international community in general, and defraud the Germans and the Arabs in particular. At the moment the best the negationist have done in this respect is either Arthur Butz’s rambling and highly implausible suggestion that the origin of the conspiracy was somehow tied to the American need to accelerate in 1942 its synthetic rubber program, or a certain “Samuel Crowell’s” more recent attempt to describe, in good post-modern fashion, Auschwitz as the result of “intertextuality.”557 And if the actual war-time history of Auschwitz and Birkenau was indeed one of relative normality, comparable to the histories of Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, with only typhus epidemics as an extra permanent fixture to explain the increased mortality, then one should expect holocaust deniers to produce, accepting the criteria and constraints of accepted historical scholarship, a transparent and coherent account to that effect. At the moment nothing exists even resembling this. Certainly, the negationists have shown great creativity in inventing many alternative explanations for each aspect of the camp’s history that seems to point to a deliberate program of genocide, but none of them are reconciled in one plausible narrative–a history that would force the negationists to choose between the many options they have imagined, to seriously engage with issues of relevancy and causation, and to apply judgement.

    In the following pages I will show that the work of these so-called revisionist historians constitutes a travesty of historical scholarship. I will consider the most important statements made by these negationist scholars, beginning with the Frenchman Paul Rassinier.558 At this point I will not consider why and how he became to be convinced that the Holocaust was a Hoax, but simply review his most important statements on the subject, giving particular attention to the way he interprets the evidence from Auschwitz. I will demonstrate that, as a scholar, Rassinier is grossly inaccurate at best, intellectually dishonest as a rule, and mad at worst. According to Rassinier, the genealogy of the gas chamber hoax began in 1943. In the case of the German camps, the agent provocateur was not Victor Kravchenko, but Rapheal Lemkin.

    After some fifteen years of historical research, I have come to the following conclusion: it was in 1943 that National Socialist Germany was accused for the first time of the systematic extermination of the Jews in the gas chambers. The author of this first, horrible and infamous accusation was a Polish Jew, a refugee in England and a jurist by profession, by the name of Rafael Lemkin. And, he made that accusation in a book published in London, and in English, in that year, entitled Axis Rule in Occupied Europe….And, the view maintained in the book was supported by the Kasztner Report on the tragedy of the Hungarian Jews, a report which was also talked about in the corridors during the [Nuremberg ] trial..But, we must be precise and say that it was only after January 30, 1946, the date when French Prosecutor DuBost made public his discovery of the Gerstein document, that these two pieces of writing took on importance. In fact, it was on that day that, in the world press, the gas chambers mythology began its dance to every tune and diabolical rhythm; that unrestrained saraband full of missteps has not stopped since.

    Let us try to reconstruct the facts. Until January 30, 1946, aside from the Axis Rule in Occupied Europe and the Kasztner Report which were only secondhand testimonies, the prosecution and judges at Nuremberg had only direct testimonies which, juridically, were not much authentic, given the way in which they were adduced by their authors. All of these witnesses had been interned at Auschwitz, and,as for gas chambers, either they knew nothing about them, or they knew about them through their prison comrades who were “trustworthy” and who they generally did not name, or who were already dead, if they did name them. Second hand testimony again. An example of this kind of testimony is provided by Dr. Benedikt Kautski, who did not appear in court, but,as we have seen, who wrote a book and had his short hour of fame. Another is that of Madame Vaillant-Couturier who arrived at the Auschwitz camp in January 1943, who was a communist, who, for that reason, was hidden away in the hospital where she was an important personage in the Häftlingsführung and who, in answer to the question as to whether the hospital had been open to Jews when they were sick, coldly replied to French Prosecutor DuBost, “No, when we got there the Jews did not have the right to go there; they were taken directly to the gas chamber if they were sick.” (T. VI, p. 219) Now, never was a false witness brought before the bar of a Tribunal with such calm assurance, since in January 1943 there existed–if indeed there ever existed–no gas chamber at Auschwitz, the official word being that they were not installed until the end of February 1943. There is no end to the number of false witnesses of this kind that could be cited. But, for the first time, with the Gerstein document, the prosecution had a first-hand witness. But wasn’t Gerstein dead? Yes, but he had written, or, at least, he had signed, a statement–at least that is what was claimed. Was not this statement about Auschwitz? No, not in so far as it concerned what he had seen; but invoices for Zyklon B that was delivered to that camp were appended. His description of extermination by gas in other camps portrayed the operation in such a degree of horror that the journalists assigned to the trial decided that their emphasis of that theme would be sure to sell newspapers at home. The judges themselves accorded much less importance to the Gerstein allegations, but they allowed the journalists a free hand; even though they did not actually encourage them, they never gave them their true impressions of the Gerstein document, which was presented to public opinion as though it had been admitted into evidence when actually it had been rejected (as was discussed in the preceding chapter).

    Dr. Benedikt Kautksi’s book did not come out until the end of 1946. Therefore, it did not play a part in the trial of the Major War Criminals. As a secondhand testimony on gas chambers it would not have been any great help. To have a description of the gas exterminations at Auschwitz as precise as that of the Gerstein document on Belzec, the prosecution had to wait until 1951 and Médicin à Auschwitz by Miklos Nyiszli, about whom we learned what to think in the preceding chapters. Since then, nothing. No other de visu witnesses. The literature of the concentration camps–the historians like Hans Rothfels, Golo Mann, or Raul Hilberg, the War Crimes Commission of Warsaw, and the Centres of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, their propagandists like Leon Poliakov or Hannah Arendt, the Institut für Zeitgeschichte at Munich, or showmen and film directors like Piscator (producer of Der Stellvertreter by Hochhuth)–has never been able to bring forth, as far as I know, any more than those two testimonies, both of which I believe I have proved were obviously apocryphal. I shall not belabor the point.559

    Before we consider the historiographical importance of these paragraphs, let us just look at their accuracy. It will be clear that accuracy is the first virtue of any historian, and there is a general consensus that a constant lack of accuracy in the description of small things generates a quite legitimate concern about one’s honesty in one’s judgement of the big issues. Rassinier disappoints. First of all Raphael Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe did not accuse the Germans of conducting a “systematic mass extermination of Jews in the gas chambers.” What did Lemkin write? In a chapter entitled “Genocide” Lemkin introduced the neologism “genocide” with the justification that “new conceptions require new terms.”

    By “genocide” we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), thus corresponding in its formation to such words as tyrannicide, homicide, infanticide, etc. Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accompanied by mass killing of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.560

    Given this definition, Lemkin saw that genocide involved first of all the destruction of the national pattern of a given group, and second of all the forced imposition of a new pattern. It was therefore mainly a political, cultural, and economic process. This, so he believed, occurred with varying intensity all over German-ruled Europe, but especially in German annexed Alsace, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Bohemia, and western Poland. Lemkin did discuss German policies of biological genocide in the annexed parts of Poland, where the German authorities tried to decrease the birthrates of Poles, and physical genocide through racial discrimination in feeding, the endangering of health, and mass killings. In all three categories he included most of the non-German nations that had come under Nazi rule.561 The section dealing with mass killings reads as follows:

    Mass Killings. The technique of mass killings is employed mainly against Poles, Russians, and Jews, as well as against leading personalities from among the non-collaborationist groups in all the occupied countries. In Poland, Bohemia-Moravia, and Slovenia, the intellectuals are being “liquidated” because they have always been considered as the main bearers of national ideals and at the time of occupation they were especially suspected of being the organizers of resistance. The Jews for the most part are liquidated within the ghettos, or in special trains in which they are transported to a so-called “unknown” destination. The number of Jews who have been killed by organized murder in all the occupied countries, according to the Institute of Jewish Affairs of the American Jewish Congress in New York, amounts to 1,702,500.562

    The next paragraph deals with the religious persecution of Luxembourgeois and Polish catholics. There is no mention of gas chambers either in Lemkin’s text, nor in the reference he quotes from the December 17, 1942 “Joint Declaration by members of the United Nations,” in which the Germans are accused of working the able-bodied to death in labour camps and in which they leave the infirm to die of exposure or starvation, or massacre them in mass executions.563 Lemkin does not mention anywhere the systematic mass extermination of Jews in gas chambers.

    Similarly the records do not support Rassinier’s account of the events on January 30, 1946–the day that the “gas chambers mythology began its dance to every tune and diabolical rhythm.” First of all, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Charles Dubost did not announce his discovery of the famous Gerstein Report–the very detailed eyewitness account of the extermination process in Belzec written by SS-Obersturmführer Kurt Gerstein. What did happen is that Dubost mentioned that he had possession of ten invoices addressed to Gerstein for the delivery of Zyklon B to the Oranienburg and Auschwitz concentration camps, and that he wanted to submit them as evidence under Exhibit Number RF-350.564 There is no evidence anywhere in the official transcript of that day’s proceedings that justifies Rassinier’s claim that on that day the “unrestrained saraband” of the gas–chamber legend began. There is no evidence anywhere that justifies Rassinier’s observation that, “for the first time, with the Gerstein document, the prosecution had a first-hand witness,” and that “the judges themselves accorded much less importance to the Gerstein allegations.” No allegations were read, no “description of extermination by gas” provided. The only thing that happened was that DuBost mentioned the ten invoices, and that he encountered some difficulties in having it and many other documents accepted as evidence that day because of the inability of DuBost’s small staff in completing all the required administrative procedures in arranging and numbering them.

    Rassinier elsewhere suggested that the refusal of the judges to initially admit Exhibit Number RF-350 as evidence was due to its mistrust of the authenticity of the document. “For reasons which the reader will not fail to understand,the Tribunal, in fact, did not want to hear anything about either Kurt Gerstein or his testament,” Rassinier observed. “[O]ut of the bundle of documents that were produced by Mr. DuBost, it accepted only two invoices of April 30, 1944, each for 555 kilos of Zyklon B, one for Auschwitz and the other for Oranienburg.”565 Elsewhere Rassinier gives a slightly different version of the same event.

    It was this fantastically gruesome account that Mr.DuBost–not just anyone, but a prosecutor, and, doubtless, a well known one too, since he was chosen from among his peers to represent France at Nuremberg–wanted to have accepted by the International Tribunal on January 30, 1946. The Tribunal did not go along. But, one must say that for the Tribunal not to go along it had to be really a little thick, because in other circumstances it swallowed, apparently without a flick of an eyelash, lots of other tricky things of this kind.566

    Again, the record of the proceedings do not support Rassinier’s suggestion. The Gerstein Report was never at issue, and the (temporary) problem, resolved that same afternoon, was of a procedural nature.

    Georges Wellers, former inmate of Auschwitz and editor of “Le Monde Juife,” could not resist showing his rage at Rassinier’s suggestion, which later transformed into a conclusion, that the refusal of the Tribunal to initially accept Exhibit Number RF-350 into evidence proved “that the Gerstein document was an historical forgery.”

    This “argument” is a model of hypocrisy and outrageous deceit typical of all the procedures currently employed by Rassinier. It is a model of hypocrisy, for God knows how much spleen Rassinier vented on the Tribunal of Nuremberg and its decisions, how many documents admitted by the Tribunal were declared by him to be “forged,” “apocryphal,” “falsified,” “worthless,” “not conclusive,” etc. to not take seriously his sudden and virtuous indignation that the Gerstein document is still considered authentic and essential. Outrageous deceit, for in reality the Tribunal, during its morning session on January 30 did in fact “refuse to hear the reading” of the Gerstein report, but not at all because it considered it “inconclusive,” but rather for a purely technical reason: a certificate establishing its origin, obligatory required by the Tribunal for every paper produced, was lacking.567

    And after describing how, later in the afternoon the Tribunal apologized to Mr. DuBost for causing some difficulties earlier that day, Wellers asked “[i]s that sufficiently clear? The incident is closed for anyone…Except for Rassinier, naturally.”568

    Let us return to the passage under discussion. Finally, of course, is Rassinier’s blunt dismissal of Claude Vaillant-Couturier’s testimony. Labelling her a “communist” and conveniently ignoring that she was a member of the Constituent Assembly and a Chevalier in the Legion d’Honneur, Rassinier passed in silence over her amazingly detailed and responsible account of life and death in Auschwitz, dismissing her whole testimony because he wrongly assumed that in January 1943, when she arrived in Auschwitz, there were no gas chambers. Whenever Madame Vaillant-Couturier mentioned something she had not witnessed herself, she mentioned this specifically in her declaration, and provided the name of her informant.569

    Thus Rassinier’s genealogy of the gas chamber story is inaccurate, to say the least. Equally non-sensical is his account of how the legend of the concentration camps and the hoax of the Holocaust were the result of the cold-war.

    [I]t is no secret that there are certain features of the foreign policy of the United States which are expressly designed to prevent any serious breakdown of relations with the Soviet Union; the contrived danger of a re-birth of Naziism and Fascism in Europe is one of them. Both Stalin and Truman fully exploited this myth [of the camps], the former to keep Europe from achieving economic and political unity and from integrating Germany into such a European community, and the latter to justify in part the huge cost of maintaining an army of occupation in Germany.570

    When in the early 1950s the prospect of a united Europe appeared, the Soviets and the Israelis had new reasons to whip up the myth of the gas chambers, the former to prevent the isolation of Russia, the latter to prevent an end to the German reparation payments to Israel. The main centers of propaganda were two organizations that were a figment of Rassinier’s imagination: the Warsaw Committee for the investigation of crimes and war criminals and the World Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation. 571

    The target was Germany. The theme was that the horrors and atrocities that had been committed during the Second World War by the Nazis were a natural vocation of Germany. Therefore, in order to prevent a re-emergence of this horrible propensity, the Germans had to be kept under severe control and very carefully segregated.572

    Thus appeared, on orders of propaganda organizations centred in Warsaw and Tel Aviv, Miklos Nysizli’s memoir Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account and Leon Poliakov’s Harvest of Hate and finally Rudolf Höss’s memoirs.

    In his historiography of our knowledge of the gas chambers, Rassinier introduced a technique which other negationists were to copy: he summarily dismissed all eye-witness testimonies that affirmed the existence of, for example, gas chambers as lies of Ulysses, and ignored (or perhaps proved ignorant of)the vast array of other evidence. Of course, he did profess at occasions his good will:

    For fifteen years, everytime that I heard of a witness anywhere, no matter where in the portion of Europe that was not occupied by the Soviets, who claimed to have himself been present at gas exterminations, I immediately went to him to get his testimony. And, each time the experience ended in the same way. With documentation in hand, I would ask him so many precise and detailed questions that soon it became apparent that he could not answer except by lying. Often his lies became so transparent, even to himself, that he ended his testimony by declaring that he had not seen it himself, but that one of his good friends, who had died in the camps and whose good faith he could not doubt, had told him about it. I covered thousands and thousands of kilometres throughout Europe in this way.573

    It is a pity, for posterity’s sake, that Rassinier did not keep a log of his travels, or his interviews, as it would have helped later generations of historians in their work!

    It will be clear that the publication of Höss’s autobiography and his essay on the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem troubled Rassinier. Unlike the memoirs of the deportees, he could not simply dismiss the book as another “Lie of Ulysses.” Therefore he had to engage the text closely, and discredit Höss as a witness by revealing alleged contradictions, miscalculations and other reasons for doubt as to the accuracy of his memory or the veracity of his statements.

    In reply to the question put by Dr. Kaufmann, Kaltenbrunner’s legal counsel at Nuremberg, “Did Eichmann tell you in fact that more than 2,000,000 Jews were destroyed at Auschwitz camp?” Hoess answered, “Yes, that is right.” (T. XI, p. 409.) Behind the scenes he is supposed to have told the American psychologist, Gustave Gilbert, that “Every day two trains brought in 3,000 persons, for 27 months” (therefore, for the whole length of the period of deportation, from March 1942 to July 1944). “So that makes a total of about 2,500,000 people.” (Statement of Professor Gilbert before the Jerusalem Tribunal in judgement on Eichmann, May 30, 1961). But, when it came to giving details about these 2,500,000 people he wrote in the Le Commandant d’Auschwitz parle (p. 239, French ed.):

    As for me, I never knew the total number, and had no way of determining it. I can only remember the number in the most important cases, often pointed out to me by Eichmann or one of his deputies.

    From Upper Silesia, or Poland in general: 250,000
    From Germany, or Theresienstadt: 100,000
    Holland: 95,000
    Belgium: 20,000
    France: 110,000
    Greece: 65,000
    Hungary: 400,000
    Slovakia: 90,000
    TOTAL: 1,130,000

    The figures concerning cases of less importance are not graven in my memory, but they were insignificant compared with the above. I think the figure of 2,500,000 much too high “574

    Rassinier’s text is full of mistakes, misinterpretation, and falsification. “Behind the scenes [Höss ] is supposed to have told…” is refuted by reading either Gilbert’s book The Psychology of Dictatorship (1950) or the transcripts of the Eichmann trial. In the book Gilbert wrote and during the trial he stated under oath that Höss wrote these things down in a short autobiography created on Gilbert’s behest. On May 29, 1961, the day of Gilbert’s testimony, the original document was produced in court as evidence, and marked as T/1170.575 In his autobiography Höss provided a detailed description of the arrival, selection and killing of the deportees. I will provide a rather lengthy quotation, to provide the full context for the two sentences Rassinier chose to quote.

    In Birkenau there were five installations–two large crematoria, each of which had a capacity for receiving 2,000 persons in the course of 24 hours. That is to say, it was possible in one gas chamber to put to death up to 2,500 persons; in five double ovens heated with coke, it was possible to burn at most 2,000 bodies within 24 hours; two smaller installations could eliminate about 1,500 people, with four bigger double ovens to each of them. Furthermore, there was also an open-air installation–that is, an old farmhouse was sealed and turned into a gas chamber, which could also contain 1,500 persons at one and the same time. The incineration was carried out there in an open pit on wood, and this was practically limitless. In my estimation, it was possible to burn there, in 24 hours, up to 8,000 persons in this way. Hence it was possible to exterminate and eliminate up to 10,000 people within 24 hours in the installations described above. As far as I am aware, this number was attained only once in 1944, when delays occurred in the arrival of trains, and consequently five transports arrived together on one day. The ashes of the burnt bodies were ground into dust, which was poured into the Vistula in remote places and swept away with the current.

    On the basis of the figure of 2.5 million, which is the number of people who–according to Eichmann–were brought to Auschwitz for extermination, it may be said that on average, two transports arrived daily, with a combined total of 4,000 persons, of whom twenty-five per cent were fit for work, the balance of 3,000 were to be exterminated. The intervals in the various operations can be computed together at nine months. Thus there remain 27 months, with 90,000 people each month–a total of 2,430,000 people. This is a calculation of the technical potential. I have to keep to the figure mentioned by Eichmann, for he was the only SS officer who was allowed to keep records concerning these liquidation operations, according to the orders of the Reichsführer-SS. All other units which took part in any way had to destroy all records immediately. Eichmann mentioned this number in my presence when he was called upon, in April 1945, to present a report to the Reichsführer-SS. I had no records whatsoever. But, to the best of my knowledge, this number appears to me much to high. If I calculate the total of the mass operations which I still remember, and still make allowance for a certain percentage of error, I arrive, in my calculation, at a total of 1.5 million at the most, for the period from the beginning of 1941 to the end of 1944. But these are my computations which I cannot verify.[Emphasis added]

    Nuremberg, 24 April 1946 (Signed) Rudolf Höss (At the bottom of the document): Hungary – 400,000; Slovakia – 90,000; Greece – 65,000; Holland – 90,000; France – 110,000; Belgium – 20,000; the region of the Generalgouvernement and Upper Silesia – 250,000; Germany and Terezin – 100,000. Total – 1,125,000.576

    Considering Höss’s statement given to Gilbert and read in court during the Eichmann trial, it is clear that first of all the contradiction that Rassinier noted between the figures of 2.5 million and 1.1 million does not exist. Höss clearly states that he took Eichmann’s figure of 2.5 million deportees as a point of departure, and that, at least in theory, this number of victims could have been achieved with an average of 90,000 victims arriving over 27 of the 36 months that mass killing took place in Auschwitz. However, Höss warned that the number of (27 x 90,000 =) 2,430,000 should only be seen as “a calculation of the technical potential.” Having no records of his own, he felt obliged “to keep to the figure mentioned by Eichmann, for he was the only SS officer who was allowed to keep records concerning these liquidation operations, according to the orders of the Reichsführer-SS.” But, having said so, Höss immediately proceeded to make his own calculation, which was “1.5 million at the most, for the period from the beginning of 1941 to the end of 1944. But these are my computations which I cannot verify.” As to the second quotation Rassinier provided, which came from the French version of Höss’s autobiography, again we can see that he failed to provide the context. The paragraph that preceded the one with the calculation of 1,130,000 million deportees that Rassinier quoted reads as follows:

    During my earlier interrogations I gave the number of 2.5 million Jews who arrived at Auschwitz to be exterminated. This figure was given to me by Eichmann, who had given this figure to my superior, SS General Glücks, when Eichmann was ordered to make a report to Himmler shortly before Berlin was surrounded….I myself never knew the total number, and I have nothing to help me arrive at an estimate. I can only remember the figures involved in the larger actions….577

    Again, the context is the same. Höss mentions Eichmann’s calculation of 2.5 million deportees in order to reject it in favour for a lower figure of his own.

    Quoting partially and out of context, Rassinier gave the false impression that Höss came to one conclusion in one place, and another elsewhere–in short that Höss was an unreliable witness. It seems, after some closer scrutiny of the evidence, that Höss showed, after all, a remarkable consistency in his computations–especially so if one remembers that he did the two calculations Rassinier quoted at different periods and without the opportunity to compare them. The contradiction does not exist, except in Rassinier’s mind.

    Having established the less than stellar practice of Rassinier as a scholar and having reestablished the credibility of Höss as a witness, we return to Rassinier’s text.

    [W]e are concerned here with the witness Hoess, not the general statistics. And about those two trains that for 27 months brought 3,000 people to Auschwitz everyday, witness Hoess does not seem very certain. On this subject I invite the reader to think about these three propositions:

    1. As far as I can remember the convoys arriving at Auschwitz never carried more than 1,000 prisoners.” (p.220).
    2. Following some delays in communication, five convoys a day, instead of the expected three, arrived.” (p.236).
    3. In the extermination of Hungarian Jews, convoys were arriving at the rate of 15,000 persons a day.” (p.239).

    From which it appears that under certain circumstances five trains per day of 1,000 persons each delivered a total of 15,000 persons.578

    So let us follow Rassinier’s proposal, and consider these three propositions. First of all, let us establish their context. The first quote appears in a discussion about the early transports of Upper Silesian Jews to Auschwitz.

    I am unable to recall when the destruction of the Jews began–probably in September 1941, or perhaps not until January 1942. At first we dealt with the Jews from Upper Silesia. These Jews were arrested by the Gestapo from Katowice and transported via the Auschwitz-Dziediez railroad and unloaded there. As far as I can recall, these transports never numbered more than a thousand persons (Emphasis added).579

    Comparison between the German original and the English translation shows that the latter has some problems, but on a crucial point it is correct: when Höss discusses the size of the transports, he only refers to those early transports. “These transports never numbered more than a thousand persons.” He does not refer to other transports. In fact,the use of the demonstrative adjective “these” and the double adverb “never…more” suggest that other, that is later, transports were larger. By changing “these transports” for “the transports,” Rassinier distorted Höss’s text.

    A misrepresentation of a different kind occurs when he quotes that “following some delays in communication, five convoys a day, instead of the expected three, arrived.” The context of this sentence, in the translation of Andrew Pollinger, is as follows:

    The highest total figure of people gassed and cremated in twenty-four hours was slightly more than nine thousand. This figure was reached in the summer of 1944, during the action in Hungary, using all installations except Crematory [IV]. On that day five trains arrived because of delays on the rail lines, instead of three, as was expected, and in addition the railroad cars were more crowded than usual.580

    Rassinier is quite brazen with his third quotation: “In the extermination of Hungarian Jews, convoys were arriving at the rate of 15,000 persons a day.” It does not appear in the original. He seems to have made it up. In conclusion, Rassinier suggests a discrepancy between three figures that does not exist. The two that could be traced back applied both to specific, and what proved to be atypical situations–one at the (hesitant) beginning of the history of Auschwitz as a site of the Shoah, and one extraordinary situation during its peak.

    In the next paragraph Rassinier, who has shown poor exegetic skills, provides an example of his mathematical skills.

    To the Tribunal on April 15, 1946, Hoess had stated that these trains carried 2,000 persons each (T. XI, p. 412). To Professor Gustave Gilbert he said that they contained 1,500 each, and in his book, he comes down to 1,000. What is certain that for the period given none of these estimates on the capacity of the trains corresponds to a total of 1,130,000. The last one is the closest to the truth with an exaggeration of only 300,000. Since Mr. Raul Hilberg takes under consideration six “killing centres,” an exaggeration of 300,000 for each one would yield a total exaggeration of nearly 2,000,000 persons and, out of six million a total exaggeration of that magnitude is quite important.581

    I will not comment on the easy way Rassinier was able to bring back to life, at the end of this paragraph, almost 2 million Jews with a stroke of the pen. Of greater interest is his statement about the capacity of the trains, and his conclusions. First of all the contradiction between the numbers. As we have seen, Höss mentioned the figure of 1,000 in relation to the transports of early 1942 from surrounding region of Upper Silesia. The figure of 2,000 that he mentioned on April 15, 1946, referred to “the whole period up until 1944.”

    Dr. Kaufmann: “And then the railway transports arrived. During what period did these transports arrive and about how many people, roughly, were in such a transport?”
    Hoess: “During the whole period up until 1944 certain operations were carried out at irregular intervals in the different countries, so that one cannot speak of a continuous flow of incoming transports. It was always a matter of 4 to 6 weeks. During those 4 to 6 weeks two to three trains, containing about 2,000 persons each, arrived daily.582

    Again, where Höss is specific and where he makes historically important distinctions, Rassinier chooses to lump things together. He also seems incompetent as an accountant when he states that there is no way one could reach, on the basis of trains with between 1,000 and 2,000 Jews, a total number of 1,130,000 arriving deportees. Yet a simple calculation that does not exceed the abilities of a ten-year old shows otherwise. Let us take as our basis the figure of that the deportations occurred over a period of 27 months (a figure which Rassinier endorsed a little earlier). This is a little over 800 days. This means that, on average, Auschwitz would have received 1,412 deportees per day. This is the average of the three figures Rassinier quoted–that is the total number of 1,130,000 deportees could have been easily reached if over a period of 27 months one train of 1,500 people per day arrived at the camp. But, as Höss wrote, during many actions the average rate was between two and three trains per day, and during the Hungarian action the normal rate was three trains per day. And I wonder how Rassinier could state with such conviction that, “for the period given none of these estimates on the capacity of the trains corresponds to a total of 1,130,000.”

    In the next paragraph Rassinier showed his general ignorance of the meaning of the documents of the Zentralbauleitung found in Auschwitz at the time of the liberation.

    The same observation holds for the soundness of [Hoess’s] testimony. “In the middle of spring, 1942, hundreds of human beings perished in the gas chambers.” (p. 178.) But, as we have seen, Document No. 4401 establishes beyond any doubt that the so-called “gas chambers” were not ordered for Auschwitz until August 8, 1942 and Document No. 4463 establishes that they were not actually installed until February 20, 1943. At Nuremberg, Hoess had already stated in his deposition that “in 1942, Himmler came to visit the camp and was present at an execution from beginning to end,” (T. XI, p. 413); no one called his attention to the fact that even if it were possible that Himmler had gone to Auschwitz in 1942, it was not possible for him to have been present at an execution, since the gas chambers had not been constructed yet. And,furthermore, we know that it would have been unlikely for Himmler to have been present at an execution because as we learned after the war from his physician, Dr.Kersten, he could not bear the sight of an execution.583

    Two documents that relate to the construction of the four new crematoria equipped with gas chambers in no way preclude the existence of other gas chambers in Auschwitz. In fact, Bunker 1 had been in operation since March of that year, and Bunker 2 since July. These were converted farmhouses and, in fact, Höss mentions them as the place of execution in the paragraph preceding the sentence Rassinier chose to quote as well, more obliquely, in the sentence itself, which Rassinier chose to quote only partly, suppressing amongst other things not only the location, but also Höss’s sickeningly sentimental attempt at poetry. “In the spring of 1942 hundreds of people in the full bloom of life walked beneath the budding fruit trees of the farm into the gas chamber to their death, most often without a hint of what was going to happen to them.”584 (“Im Frühjahr 1942 gingen Hunderte von blühenden Menschen unter den blühenden Obstbäumen des Bauerngehöftes, meist nichtsahnend, in die Gaskammern, in den Tod.585)It is in this context significant that Rassinier uses the definite article “the” when he mentions the gas chambers: “it was not possible for him to have been present at an execution, since the gas chambers had not been constructed yet. [Emphasis added]” The definite article “the” suggests there were only one set of gas chambers at the site that came into operation in 1943. In fact, there were many different gas chambers, some which were used for longer periods, and some for a shorter time, some were spaces converted from other uses, others were designed as gas chambers.

    Finally there is Rassinier’s treatment of Himmler’s visit. Höss provided a few short accounts of this visit in his autobiography, and in his essay on the Final Solution.586 In the latter text the account reads as follows.

    During his visit in the summer of 1942, Himmler very carefully observed the entire process of annihilation. He began with the unloading at the ramps and completed the inspection as Bunker 2 was being cleared of bodies. At that time there were no open-pit burnings. He did not complain about anything, but he didn’t say anything about it either. Accompanying him were District Leader Bracht and SS General Schmauser. Shortly after Himmler’s visit, SS Colonel Blobel from Eichmann’s office arrived and brought Himmler’s order, which stated that all the mass graves were to be opened and all the bodies cremated. It further stated that all the ashes were to be disposed of in such a way that later on there would be no way to determine the number of those cremated.587

    It is obvious that Himmler did not like the sight, but was more of a “man” than both Kersten and Rassinier assumed.

    Finally Höss provided a very long (four pages) and very detailed account of this visit in his biographical essay on Himmler, which was attached to and published with his autobiography. In this essay Höss described once more Himmler’s response to the killings.

    After inspecting Birkenau, Himmler witnessed the complete extermination process of a transport of Jews which had just arrived. He also looked on for a while during a selection of those who would work and those who would die without any complaint on his part. Himmler made no comment about the extermination process. He just looked in total silence. I noticed that he very quietly watched the officers, the NCOs and me several times during the process.588

    The next paragraph of Rassinier’s text is even more problematic.

    Hoess’ comments concerning the capacity of the gas chambers and the crematories also are grossly contradictory. For example, he says on one page that: The maximum figure for the number of people gassed or incinerated every 24 hours was a little more than 9,000 for all the installations (p.236, emphasis added.) But, then, he says a few pages later: As I have already said, Crematories I and II could incinerate about 2,000 bodies in 24 hours; it was not possible to exceed this if one wanted to avoid damage. Installations III and IV were supposed to incinerate 1,500 corpses in 24 hours. But, as far as I know, these figures were never reached. (p.245, emphasis added.) How can one fail to deduce from these flagrant contradictions that here is a document which was fabricated hastily after the event by illiterates?589

    So let’s look again at what Höss really says. For the record: with Anlage II (Installation II) Hoess points at Bunker 2., As we have already seen, Bunker 2 was a peasant cottage west of Birkenau that had been transformed into a gas chamber in the summer of 1942. It had been taken out of commission after the completion of the crematoria in 1943, but brought back into operation during the Hungarian Action in 1944 and renamed as Bunker 5. Outside Bunker 2/5 were large burning pits, where bodies were cremated in the open. The remains of these pits, together with the ashes, are still visible today.

    Installation II, later designated as Open Air Installation or Bunker V, was in operation until the very end, especially as a standby in case of breakdowns in crematoria I to IV. In the case of actions with train transports arriving shortly after each other daytime gassings were conducted at V, and nightly arriving transports at I to IV. The cremation possibility at V was practically unlimited as long it was still possible to burn both by day and night. Because of enemy air activity it was not possible anymore from 1944 onwards to burn at night. The highest total figure of gassings and cremations within 24 hours was a little over 9,000 at all locations except at III in the summer of 1944 during the Hungarian Action, as due to train delays five instead of the expected three trains arrived within 24 hours, and these were also more heavily loaded (Emphasis added).590

    In other words, there is no contradiction. The open air cremation pits at V allow for the much higher figure. By partially quoting the paragraph, Rassinier either incompetently or malevolently tried to change the record.

    Elsewhere Rassinier is just sloppy.

    Finally, a careful analysis of the following language reveals a pearl: Toward the end of 1942, all the mass graves were cleaned [crematory ovens had not been built yet, and incineration was done in mass graves]. The number of cadavers buried there exceeded 107,000. This figure [as Rudolph Hoess explains farther on] includes not only convoys of Jews gassed from the beginning, until the moment when they went on to incineration, but also the cadavers of all the prisoners who died in Auschwitz-Birkenau camp (p. 231). From this statement one infers that in nearly three years 107,000 persons died. I say “in nearly three years” because the two phrases “toward the end of 1942″ and “until the moment when they went on to incineration,” are paradoxical, since the cremations could not have begun, according to the official thesis, before February 20, 1943. Therefore, for the two to be concomitant, which is called for here, it is absolutely necessary that both should have occurred on this last date. Since the camp was opened on June 14, 1940, one has to speak of almost three years. Hence the cremation of 107,000 cadavers before February 1943 must mean that all of the rest were cremated at a later date. Taking into account that between February 1943 and October 1944 (the official end of the exterminations) there are 17 months and that, as the Kasztner Report tells us, for 8 or 9 months (the autumn of 1943 to May 1944) the gas chambers at Auschwitz were out of order and not working, it remains to be established how many persons more than 107,000 could have been “incinerated,” from February 1943 to October 1944, when the camp was equipped with four crematoria ovens of 15 burners each. I would be very astonished if a cremation expert, given these facts, should reply that it was possible to cremate the million bodies that are claimed by Mr. Raul Hilberg, or even the 900,000 of the Institute of Jewish Affairs.591

    Rassinier begins his argument with a quote from Höss’s report. Let us carefully examine this quote in its proper context. In the preceding paragraphs Höss records the beginning of the extermination of Jews in Bunker I, describing the procedure in some detail.

    During the spring of 1942 we were still dealing with small police actions. But during the summer the transports became more numerous and we were forced to build another extermination site. The farm west of crematoria 4 and 5, which were built later, was chosen and prepared. Five barracks were built, two near Bunker 1, and three near Bunker 2. Bunker 2 was the larger one. It held about 1,200 people. As late as the summer of 1942 the corpses were still buried in mass graves. Not until the end of the summer did we start burning them. At first we put two thousand bodies on a large pile of wood. Then we opened up the mass graves and burned the new bodies on top of the old ones from the earlier burials. At first we poured waste oil over the bodies. Later on we used methanol.The burning went on continuously–all day and all night. By the end of November all the mass graves were cleared. The number of buried bodies in the mass graves was 107,000. This number contains not only the first Jewish transports which were gassed when we started the burnings, but also the bodies of the prisoners who died in the main Auschwitz camp during the winter of 1941- 42 because the crematory was out of order. The prisoners who died at Birkenau [Auschwitz 2] are included in that number.592

    Examination of the text shows how non-sensical Rassinier’s comments are. Let’s look at them sentence by sentence. “From this statement one infers that in nearly three years 107,000 persons died.” In fact, this inference is wrong. All the statement says is that 107,700 people were buried in mass graves until the beginning of the incinerations on the pyres, that is until the end of the summer of 1942. It does not even include those people who arrived after the end of the summer to be killed and cremated immediately upon death without having been buried first in a mass grave. It only includes those who were killed and initially buried without the intention of later cremation.

    The largest group of these people were Jews who had arrived mostly after the spring of 1942–the transports in the spring were still classified as “small police actions.” So these were people who were killed in the camp between let’s say June and September, that is three months and not three years. Added to that were two smaller groups–inmates who had died in Auschwitz I in the winter of 1941/42 when the crematorium there was in repair, and the prisoners who had died in Birkenau since its opening in the beginning of March 1942. Ignorant of the context, Rassinier’s following sentence is non-sensical. “I say ‘in nearly three years’ because the two phrases ‘toward the end of 1942′ and ‘until the moment when they went on to incineration,’ are paradoxical, since the cremations could not have begun, according to the official thesis, before February 20, 1943. “The paradox does not exist, because it is absolutely clear that Höss refers in his “bis zu Beginn der Verbrennungen [until the beginning of the incineration]” to the open–air incinerations discussed earlier in the same paragraph, and not to the in-house incinerations in the crematoria mentioned 10 paragraphs later. As these open-air incinerations began at the end of the summer, they could very well have ended by the end of November 1942.

    As a result Rassinier’s conclusion that between June 1940 and February 1943 only (!) 107,700 people were cremated is nonsense: it only applies to three distinct groups of murdered people which represent according to current data about half of the total mortality of Auschwitz in 1942. Furthermore these cremations took place in very primitive circumstances, and hence any attempt to extrapolate from the number of 107,000 the number of total cremations in Auschwitz is inappropriate given the fact that in early 1943 four new crematoria with 46 ovens became available. Official figures of the Zentralbauleitung mentioned a total cremation capacity of 4,756 corpses per day. Yet Rassinier has no qualms about trying to make some suggestion that there should be some balance between the (false) figure of 107,000 corpses cremated before February 1943, and the total amount of cremations between February 1943 and October 1944.

    Since the camp was opened on June 14, 1940, one has to speak of almost three years. Hence the cremation of 107,000 cadavers before February 1943 must mean that all of the rest were cremated at a later date. Taking into account that between February 1943 and October 1944 (the official end of the exterminations) there are 17 months and that, as the Kasztner Report tells us, for 8 or 9 months (the autumn of 1943 to May 1944) the gas chambers at Auschwitz were out of order and not working, it remains to be established how many persons more than 107,000 could have been “incinerated,” from February 1943 to October 1944, when the camp was equipped with four crematoria ovens of 15 burners each. I would be very astonished if a cremation expert, given these facts, should reply that it was possible to cremate the million bodies that are claimed by Mr. Raul Hilberg, or even the 900,000 of the Institute of Jewish Affairs (Emphasis added).593

    With “all of the rest” I assume that Rassinier means the other 900,000 (Hilberg) or 800,000 corpses (Institute of Jewish Affairs).

    This is what Rassinier had to say about Auschwitz. It will have become clear that it cannot pass even the most superficial examination. Rassinier did not have either the accuracy, nor the logic, nor the honesty required of a researcher.

    One could go on, but I assume that the foregoing discussions will have amply demonstrated the worthless nature of Rassinier’s scholarship. I will leave his other arguments, such as for example his demographic argument that the total number of Jewish victims was either 1,589,492 or 987,592 (!), and that the “lie” involves the “murder” of 4,419,908 Jews who never existed, for others to tackle.594 On the basis of our analysis of what he has to say about Auschwitz, it is clear that one need not expect much of his contribution to the demographics of the Final Solution.
    Negationism was born in France, and it there it became the focus of public debate. Yet, in the wake of Rassinier’s pioneering work, considerable negationist activity arose outside of France. As I have already mentioned in the section on “Auschwitz and Holocaust Denial,” the most important American practitioner of negationist historiography is Arthur R. Butz. A full refutation of Butz’s The Hoax of the Twentieth Century requires a dissertation. Therefore I will concentrate my analysis of Butz’s scholarship on his central argument: his assertion that no extermination of people took place in Auschwitz.

    Butz assumed that a hoax, in order to be successful, will not be based on a story that is false in all or most of its details. “[N]inety nine per cent valid fact can be present in a story whose major claim has no truth whatever to it,” Butz argued, “and recognition of this leads the author of the hoax to the maximally safe approach to his deed: distort the meaning of valid facts.”595 And he continued:

    This is the basic structure of the Auschwitz extermination legend. It is shown here that every real fact contained in the story had (not could have had, but had) a relatively routine significance, having nothing to do with the exterminations of a people. Thus those who claim extermination must advance a thesis involving a dual interpretation of the facts, but by then the impartial reader, in consideration of what has just been noted, should be on my side; the need for a dual interpretation of fact, the trademark of the hoax, has emerged.596

    Butz assumed, in other words, that procedures or structures have only one meaning or purpose, and that if we find that they have more than one–that is one “routine” meaning or purpose and one “extra-ordinary” meaning or purpose, the latter will be a fictional significance grafted on the factual one. For example: Butz rightly noted that people had to undress when subjected to delousing, that Zyklon was used for delousing purposes, that morgues were used to store corpses, that crematoria incinerated the corpses of people who had died as the result of starvation, exhaustion, mistreatment, or because of natural causes, and that chemical factories create stench. He therefore jumped to the conclusion that the author of the hoax intelligently created a fiction in which people had to undress when subjected to gassing, that Zyklon was used for killing purposes, that morgues were used as gas chambers, that crematoria incinerated the corpses of people who had been murdered in the gas chambers, and that the cremations create stench. In other words, the hoax criminalized “routine” activities. What Butz did not consider was that people had to undress both when subjected to delousing and when subjected to gassing, that Zyklon was used for delousing purposes and for killing purposes, that some morgues were used to store corpses and others as gas chambers, that crematoria incinerated the corpses of people who had died as the result of starvation, exhaustion, mistreatment, or because of natural causes, and that they incinerated the corpses of people who had been murdered in the gas chambers, and that both chemical factories and crematoria create stench. And what Butz did not consider either is the rather simple explanation, proven to be true, that the various procedures or structures had historically two meanings or purposes because the second one evolved from, or was grafted onto, the first. For example, Zyklon was used in the camp for delousing purposes, but when searching for a simple, effective and cheap killing agent for humans, the SS discovered that hydrogen cyanide did not only kill lice, but people also, and at much lower doses. And when the Auschwitz crematoria were under construction, they were assigned to function as killing stations also, and the well-ventilated morgues proved easily adaptable into gas chambers. In other words contingency marked the development of the camp, and as in all cases where contingency rules, things designed to do one thing ended up doing something else also.

    So let’s look in some detail at the substance of Butz’s argument. He began with an analysis of the Höss affidavit of April 5, 1946.

    I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December, 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70% or 80% of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries.597

    Butz commented rather tamely that “[i]t would have been helpful in putting things into slightly better focus and perspective if Hoess had briefly indicated what the nature of the ‘concentration camp industries’ at Auschwitz was, and the enormous importance this industry had for the Germans.”598 He did not go into detail why this would have been helpful, but assumed that the reader would remember an earlier discussion in which he claimed that because Auschwitz was the site of many industries using the slave labour of the camp, it could not have been a center of extermination also. As to the number of two and half million people Höss claimed to have gassed in Auschwitz, Butz noted that a year later Höss mentioned a figure of 1,135,000 people murdered. And he continued as follows:

    The lowest figure to be claimed by those who claim that gassings took place is 750,000. The Russians claimed 4,000,000, including some killed by “injections, ill treatment, etc”, but the highest figure claimed seems to be 7,000,000.599

    The reader is left to draw his own conclusions, but the suggestion is clear: when the lowest and highest estimate differ a whole order of magnitude, there is no reason to trust any of them.

    Mass executions by gassing commenced during the summer 1941 and continued until fall 1944. I personally supervised executions at Auschwitz until the first of December 1943 and know by reason of my continued duties in the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps WVHA that these mass executions continued as stated above.600

    Butz suggested that there was a contradiction with another statement Höss made in which he said that when, in 1941, Himmler ordered him to transform Auschwitz into an extermination camp, the Inspector of the Concentration Camps Glücks was not to know about this. Thus how could Höss have known about the exterminations after he had left the camp to take up a post at Glücks’s Inspectorate?601 Butz did not consider the probability that Himmler’s order of secrecy visa-vis Glücks in 1941 made sense in a context of the initial preparation of the Final Solution, and had become obsolete by 1943, when the genocide of the Jews had been underway for more than a year.

    The “final solution” of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time there were already in the general government three other extermination camps; BELZEK, TREBLINKA and WOLZEK.602 These camps were under the Einsatzkommando of the Security Police and SD. I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. The Camp Commandant at Treblinka told me that he had liquidated 80,000 in the course of one-half year. He was principally concerned with liquidating all the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. He used monoxide gas and I did not think his methods were very efficient. So when I set up the extermination building at Auschwitz I, I used Cyclon B, which was crystallized Prussic Acid we dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill the people in the death chamber depending upon climatic conditions. We knew when the people were dead because their screaming stopped. We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies. After the bodies were removed our special commandos took off the rings and extracted the gold from the teeth of the corpses.603

    Butz commented on this paragraph with a lengthy discussion that took more than three densely-printed pages. The first issue was the contradiction that existed between Höss’s account of the date of the Himmler order, June 1941, and his assertion that, at that time, Treblinka was already in operation. As Treblinka came only in operation in the summer of 1942, Butz dismissed the first part of the paragraph as “the sorts of contradictions that one should expect to emerge from a pack of lies.”604 Then he continued with a discussion on Zyklon as a delousing agent.

    The constant menace of typhus as carried by lice has been noted, and the calamitous results of a complete breakdown of disinfection measures at Belsen has been seen. In view of the particular hospitability of the Auschwitz-Kattowitz operations to the typhus-bearing louse, in view of the fact of epidemics at Auschwitz which actually forced work-stoppages, and in view of the tremendous importance of the Auschwitz industry to the German war effort, it is not surprising that the Zyklon was used in liberal quantities at Auschwitz, and in the surrounding region, for its intended purpose….

    It is not correct to say that the insecticide role of the Zyklon has been concealed; the WRB report mentions the anti-parasite role of the Zyklon and a dual role for the Zyklon at Auschwitz is explicitly claimed in the IMT transcript. We must be careful at this point to note the significance of the legend’s Zyklon B allegation. Here we have, on a major point, the main attribute of a hoax as we begin to examine the details of the Auschwitz extermination claims: the fact requiring a dual interpretation.605

    Having noted the “dual interpretation,” Butz did not find it necessary anymore to engage and refute Höss’s graphic description of the gassing procedure itself. By implication, this was now a phantasm because Zyklon was also used to kill lice. And as Butz felt confident enough to pass over the rest of the paragraph in silence, it will be no surprise that he never mentioned or engaged any of the other testimonies that corroborate Höss’s account.

    Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2,000 people at one time, whereas at Treblinka their 10 gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each. The way we selected our victims was as follows: we had two SS doctors on duty at Auschwitz to examine the incoming transport of prisoners. The prisoners would be marched by one of the doctors who would make spot decisions as they walked by. Those who were fit for work were sent into the Camp. Others were sent immediately to the extermination plants. Children of tender years were invariably exterminated since by reason of their youth they were unable to work. Still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavoured to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process. Of course, frequently they realized our true intentions and we sometimes had riots and difficulties due to that fact. Very frequently women would hide their children under the clothes but of course when we found them we would send the children in to be exterminated. We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.606

    Butz’s comment on this paragraph from Höss’s affidavit is all over the place. First of all he complained that it was highly irregular that Himmler would have chosen to bypass the normal chain of command and personally give instructions to Höss. Then he was puzzled at the way the German Government “left the means of killing, and the materials required, a matter for the judgement and ingenuity of the local camp commandant.” In the case of Auschwitz this meant that Höss decided on his own that two cottages would do as gas chambers, and that Zyklon, which he found “kicking around the camp,” would work as a killing agent. “All of this is idiotic,” Butz concluded.607

    Then he turned to Höss’s account of the selections. According to him, those unfit for work were immediately killed. Butz challenged Höss’s statement by referring to the fact that in 1943 a large group of Jews from Theresienstadt were initially not subjected to selection, but were lodged as families in Birkenau. “Since these people were put into ‘quarantine’ it is certain that their quarters had been disinfected with the Zyklon just prior to their moving in,” Butz speculated. And then he 235 noted with indignation: “Now we are asked to believe that the Germans planned to kill them with the same chemical product later on!”608 And one wonders, why not? But for Butz it did not make any sense at all.

    The part of the Auschwitz legend touching on the Theresienstadt Jews is obvious nonsense even without contrary evidence, however. It is not believable that the Germans would quarter for six months at Birkenau each of three distinct groups of people of a category for which there exists an extermination program at Birkenau.609 The dual role of the Zyklon in this story merely effects passage from the nonsensical to the incomparably absurd.610

    Then Butz turned to the selections.

    With the “selections” we are offered another fact for dual interpretation. There is no doubt that the extensive industrial and other activities required “selections” of people for various conventional purposes. We are then asked to add an “extermination” purpose to these activities.611

    Having no doubts as to the real meaning of the word selection, Butz failed to provide evidence for the selections “for various conventional purposes,” and neither did he feel obliged to engage Höss’s testimony on this issue, or the many other testimonies that corroborate it. The only thing that mattered was that the word selection can be interpreted in two different ways, which “proves” that the idea of selection as a part of the process of extermination is a fabrication.

    The last sentence of the paragraph under consideration forced Butz to employ his wits as never before. “We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz.” Butz admitted that this subject “is a big one,” and then proceeded to argue that the crematoria in Auschwitz only served the “routine” purpose of incinerating corpses, and did not serve as extermination installations. His first argument was that the crematoria were already planned before Himmler ordered any extermination program in the summer of 1942.

    It is claimed that the new crematoria were intended for extermination of Jews but we have suggested a more routine purpose in the preceding chapter. Let us review their history. The construction was well into the preliminary stages of planning and ordering early in 1942 and this fact, in itself, makes it difficult, to say the least, to believe that they were related to any extermination program ordered by Himmler in the summer of 1942. The construction plans for four structures containing crematory furnaces are dated 28 January 1942.612

    It is a nice try, but this reasoning is first of all wrong, in that only the designs of two of the crematoria were dated January 1942, while the others dated from the summer of 1942. Second of all Butz did not take into account the possibility, proven in the late 1980s to be historical fact, that the designs of the two earlier crematoria were modified later in order to accommodate gas chambers. Again, he was not prepared to admit the possibility of the SS changing its mind.

    Then Butz developed the argument that the capacity of the crematoria came nowhere close to that required to support the claim that between 800,000 (Reitlinger)and 2.5 million (Höss) people had been killed in Auschwitz. I will consider the evidence for the incineration capacity of Auschwitz in some detail in our discussion of the Leuchter report. Here I will limit myself to noting discrepancies between Butz’s argument and the evidence that will be presented in the discussion of Leuchter’s numbers. Butz wrongly assumed that “[e]ach oven was designed to take one body at a time, as are all standard cremation ovens.”613 He provided no evidence for that, and ignores statements by Höss and the testimony by surviving Sonderkommandos that the average load per oven was three corpses at a time. Then he continued with his rough-and-ready calculation.

    The limit on the rate at which people could have been exterminated in a program of the type alleged is not determined by the rate at which people could have been gassed and the gas chambers ventilated, but by the rate at which bodies could have been cremated. In estimating the capacity of the crematoria, it is possible for arithmetic to produce some impressive figures. At that time an hour was a very optimistic time to allow for the reduction of one body, and the body’s being wasted would not have made much difference. If we allow for one hour of cleaning and miscellaneous operations per day, one oven could reduce perhaps 23 bodies per day so 30 ovens could reduce 690 and 46 ovens could reduce 1058 per day. This could accommodate exterminations at the respectable rate of about 240,000 to 360,000 per year, but of course one must bear in mind that, since the exterminations are supposed to have been halted in the autumn of 1944, Auschwitz could not have had 46 ovens for more than about one year of exterminations.

    However the logic leading to such figures as the preceding is rubbish; things do not work that way. People, especially concentration camp inmates, who manned the crematoria, do not work with such efficiency, such equipment cannot be used in such a continuous manner, and equipment needs do not occur with such mathematical regularity in any case. If we allow operations to relax toward something more realistic, take into account downtime for regular and irregular maintenance and allow for usual engineering margins of excess capacity we have figures that are generally in line with anticipated epidemic conditions. It is also possible that, as the WRB report asserts, there was a backlog of buried bodies to dispose of.614

    In his calculation Butz ignored however war-time German documentation, Höss’s testimony and that of the Sonderkommando which mentioned that the ovens had a capacity of at least 4,500 corpses per day. Butz’s coup-de-grâce was, however, the fact of “dual interpretation.”

    It is obvious that, given a policy of cremating dead inmates, a vast operation such as Auschwitz would naturally provide relatively elaborate crematoria facilities for this purpose. Thus again we have a fact for dual interpretation if we are to believe the extermination legend; to the commonplace interpretation of these ovens, unquestionably valid, it is proposed that we also accept as valid a second interpretation of exterminations.615

    This, of course, cannot be.

    Butz generally, but not always, ignored inconvenient evidence. He does try to tackle one particularly important piece of evidence for the existence of gas chambers in the Auschwitz crematoria: the letter written on January 29, 1943 by the Chief Architect of the camp, Karl Bischoff, to his superior, the Chief of the SS Building Department in Berlin, Hans Kammler. As we have seen in the discussion of Dawidowski’s forensic investigation, and in the discussion of the documents, the letter has been well-known since its discovery in 1945, and was admitted, with the number NO-4473, as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials. Hence Butz could not easily ignore it. It reads as follows:

    29 January 1943
    To the Chief Amtsgruppe C, SS-Brigadeführer and General-Major of the Waffen-SS, Dr. Ing. Kammler.

    Subject: Crematorium II, condition of the building.

    The crematorium has been completed–save for minor constructional work–by the use of all the forces available, in spite of unspeakable difficulties, the severe cold, and in 24 hour shifts. The fires were started in the ovens in the presence of Senior Engineer Prüfer, representative of the contractors of the firm of Topf and Sons, Erfurt, and they are working most satisfactorily. The planks from the concrete ceiling of the cellar used as a mortuary could not yet be removed on account of the frost. This is, however, not very important, as the gas chamber [literally Vergasungskeller or “gassing Basement”] can be used for that purpose.

    The firm of Topf and Sons was not able to start deliveries of the installation in time for aeration and ventilation as had been requested by the Central Building Management because of restrictions in the use of railroad cars. As soon as the installation for aeration and ventilation arrive, the installing will start so that the complete installation may be expected to be ready for use 20 February 1943.

    We enclose a report of the testing engineer of the firm Topf and Sons, Erfurt

    The Chief of the Central Construction
    Waffen-SS and Police Auschwitz,

    Distribution: 1 – SS Ustuf Janisch and Kirschneck
    1- Filing office (file crematorium)
    Certified true copy:[signature ] SS–Ustuf (F)

    The meaning of the letter is quite clear, especially if one compares the text with a plan of the basement of crematorium 2. The basement plan shows two large spaces indicated as “Leichenkeller,” or morgues. Originally designed as spaces to store corpses, the smaller of the two morgues, Leichenkeller 1, was transformed during its construction into a gas chamber. The second morgue, Leichenkeller 2, initially was meant to function both as a morgue and an undressing room, but quickly was fully committed to the latter purpose. The letter, thus, mentions that there are problems with completing Leichenkeller 2, and that therefore the gas chamber–formerly Leichenkeller 1–will have to serve (temporarily)its original purpose, and store corpses.

    The letter is important because there was a general policy in the architectural office in the camp, as was attested by the SS architects Fritz Ertl and Walther Dejaco during their trial in 1970, never to use the terms “gas chamber” in documents or blueprints. Drawn up hastily in response to an urgent request from Berlin for information on the progress of construction, Bischoff did not notice the “slip.” When the letter was archived in the crematorium dossier of the Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung, however, someone did, and marked the forbidden word “Vergasungskeller” with a red pencil, writing on the top of the letter the words “SS-Ustuf (F)Kirschneck!” It was clear that Kirschneck was responsible for the slip, and should be told of it.616

    Butz argued that the noun Vergasungskeller should not be translated as gas chamber or, more precisely, gassing cellar. I will give his reasoning in full.

    The final subject in paragraph 7 [of Höss’s affidavit] is the gas chambers which, except for Hoess’ early sealed–up huts, are supposed to have been integrated into the crematoria buildings. Reitlinger and Hilberg take different approaches to making this claim. Reitlinger interprets NO-4473, whose translation as it appears in the NMT volume is presented above (p.116), as evidence for a gas chamber in crematorium II. This is a result of a mistranslation.

    The crematoria at Auschwitz are frequently referred to as “gas ovens” but this is hardly informative since, with the exception of electric cremators which enjoyed a brief existence during the Thirties, all modern crematoria consist of “gas ovens” a fuel-air mixture, which may be considered a “gas”, is introduced into the oven to start, control, and finish the burning. The fuel used may be “gas” town gas or some sort of liquefied gas is popular. Such a cremator is termed “gas-fired” on account of the use of gas as a fuel. Other types are “oil- fired” and “coke (or coal)-fired”, but all are ‘gas ovens” since in all three cases it is a fuel–air mixture which is injected, under pressure, into the oven.

    The customary German word for the concept in question here is “Gaskammer“, but the word in NO-4473 which was translated “gas chamber” is “Vergasungskeller“, which Reitlinger also mistranslates as “gassing cellar”.

    Now the word Vergasung has two meanings. The primary meaning (and the only one in a technical context) is gasification, carburation or vaporization, i.e. turning something into a gas, not applying gas to something. A Vergaser is a carburetor and, while Vergasung always means gasification in a technical context, it usually means, specifically, carburation in such a context….

    The translation “gassing cellar” is thus not absolutely incorrect; it is just over-hasty and presumptuous. A “gas oven” requires some sort of gasification or carburation. In the case of the gas fired-ovens of Utting and Rogers in 1932: “Burners set in the crown and sole of the furnace are fed by a mixture of air and gas under pressure; the mixture is regulated by fans, housed in a separate building. Separate control of both air and gas provides better regulation of the furnace temperature.”

    That building is just a big carburetor. Oil-fired crematoria are so similar in design that most gas-fired ovens can be easily adapted for use with oil.

    The ovens at Birkenau seem to have been coke or coal-fired, and with this type there is an extra stage of fuel processing due to the initially solid state of the fuel. The two most common methods of producing fuel gasses from coal to coke are, first, by passing air through a bed of burning coke to produce “coke oven gas” and second, by passing steam through the coke to produce “water gas”. The first coke cremators employed what amounted to coke oven gas. Processes for generating such gases are termed “Vergasung” in German, as well as processes of mixing them with air….

    In any case it is obvious that the crematoria at Auschwitz required equipment for doing Vergasung in order to inject a fuel-air mixture into the ovens and the translation of NO-4473 should be revised, possibly to “gas generation cellar”. I have confirmed this interpretation of the “Vergasungskeller” with technically competent sources in Germany. The reasons for installing such equipment in special separate rooms or even buildings are most probably the considerable noise that must be made by the fans and, in coal-fired ovens, the heat of burning coal.

    The primary meaning of the word Vergasung is of necessity applicable to document NO-4473. It is written in a technical context; it is a letter from the chief of the Auschwitz construction management to the head of the SS engineering group. It makes reference to a process, Vergasung which is standard with all crematoria, and the wording of the letter is such that it is implied that it would normally be peculiar to find bodies in the Vergasungskeller since bodies are normally stored in what is correctly translated as the “cellar used as a mortuary”.

    Document NO-4473 tends, in fact, like so many prosecution documents, to rejection of the prosecution’s claim when it is properly understood. We see that in crematorium II there were at least two cellars, a Leichenkeller and a Vergasungskeller and that neither was a “gas chamber”.617

    Nowhere in the whole correspondence between the makers of the ovens Topf and the SS, and nowhere in the technical specifications of the ovens is there any mention of a carburation room. Nothing in the blueprints support Butz’s contention–that none of the two large underground spaces is in any way connected to the ovens in such a way that they could function as carburation rooms? It is sufficient to note that Butz himself, in 1992, was forced to publically distance himself from the truly insane interpretation of the Vergasungskeller. The occasion was the publication of Pressac’s tome Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (1989)–a book that made available in published form a massive amount of archival material concerning the construction of the gas chambers and the crematoria which had been used in the 1945/6 forensic investigation at Auschwitz, and which had been presented again during the trial of the Auschwitz architects Walther Dejaco and Fritz Ertl, but which had since been forgotten.618 In Part Four, Chapter One, “Auschwitz explained by the revisionists,” Pressac refuted Butz’s argument that the Vergasungskeller had been a carburation room. Remarkably enough, Butz did reconsider the issue in light of Pressac’s refutation, and acknowledged that he had been wrong.

    I interpreted the Vergasungskeller mentioned in the 1943 document as a place where coke or coal was converted into a combustible gas, mixed with air, and then introduced under pressure int the cremation ovens.

    While this interpretation is not “technically worthless,” Pressac shows that it is not correct in this instance. His proof consists of (1)many engineering drawings of Crematorium 2, in various stages of design, which show no such facility, and (2)engineering drawings of, and other data on, typical Topf company crematory ovens, which show that they were not of the design I assumed, and which used as fuel coke supplied directly behind the ovens.619

    Having admitted that his original interpretation did not hold, Butz had to come up with another challenge to the common sense interpretation of Bischoff’s letter that the two underground rooms were a mortuary and a gas chamber, and that due to the delay in completion of the mortuary, the gas chamber was going to be temporarily used as a mortuary.

    As noted by others, Pressac is in the strange position of claiming that a room consistently designated Leichenkeller 1 on all engineering drawings was to be used only temporarily as a Leichenkeller, either instead of normally as a gas chamber, or simultaneously as a gas chamber and a morgue. In the latter case the unsuspecting victims must presumably stand on the corpses. In the former case (the only interpretation worth considering), the implied delay in the use of the building for extermination was “unimportant,” a major contradiction if one claims, as Pressac does, that the primary role of the building was for mass gassing.620

    The adverb “unimportant” now acquired great importance. In the letter it clearly referred to the delay in the removal of the formwork for the reinforced concrete ceiling of morgue 2, which prevented the room to be used at short notice as a storage place for corpses. In other words, it applied to a temporary situation. We must remember that the ovens were not yet to be operational for another month and half! During that time, no gassing should start, and so for that month-and-a-half the gas chamber could easily be used as a morgue.

    But Butz was undeterred.

    Because the document confirms that in January 1943 the Germans were working, under great pressure, to make this installation operational as an ordinary crematorium, I regard it as further evidence against the claim that it had been decided in the summer of 1942 that the primary purpose of these crematoria was extermination by lethal gassing. The use of the Vergasungskeller as a morgue not only did not interfere with bringing Crematorium II into operational status, it advanced it. Here I am arguing, in passing, for a focus on what the document says rather than on the term Vergasungskeller mentioned in it.621

    Of course, the primary purpose of the crematoria always was incineration and not gassing because, as Höss observed in his conversation with Dr. Gilbert, and experience in Auschwitz and the other camps taught, incineration capacity and not gassing capacity was the bottleneck. Gassing could be done in simple sealed rooms, as the experience with the Bunkers amply demonstrated. In fact, Butz admitted this already in 1976, when he wrote that “[t]he limit on the rate at which people could have been exterminated in a program of the type alleged is not determined by the rate at which people could have been gassed and the gas chambers ventilated, but by the rate at which bodies could have been cremated.”622 Yet in 1992 he chose to forget his earlier assessment.

    Butz continued as follows:

    In any case, Pressac’s logic in interpreting the Vergasungskeller as a gas chamber depends entirely on the assumption that there was a gas chamber in Crematorium 2. Without that assumption we have the following situation:

    1. One (and apparently only one) document concerned exclusively with the operational status of Crematorium II makes reference to a Vergasungskeller to be temporarily used, in support of the Crematorium, as a morgue and not for its intended or normal function,
    2. In the many engineering drawings of the crematoria that Pressac has examined, there is no mention of a Vergasungskeller, Gaskammer, or anything similar, and
    3. Nothing in those engineering drawings implies or calls for something describable as a Vergasungskeller. For example the cremation ovens have been shown to be of a design not calling for such a facility.

    The appropriate conclusion, I believe, is that the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium 2 at all. I assume that it was somewhere in the vicinity, but in the light of the current knowledge the only basis for inferring that it was in the Crematorium building is an assumption that there was a gas chamber there. In the absence of the massive documentation presented by Pressac, it seemed logical to assume that the Vergasungskeller was located in Crematorium II. I made just that assumption in writing my book, and the assumption seemed confirmed for me by the observation that crematorium technology could call for such a facility. However Pressac has shown, without realizing it, that the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium II because it did not appear on the many engineering plans, and is not implied or called for by anything that appears on those plans. Only an unfounded or arbitrary prior assumption can place it there.

    If the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium II, then the questions of what and where it was are only of limited importance. It suffices, I believe, to show that the term could have applied to operations that transpired, or may have transpired, elsewhere in the camp.623

    Butz’s argument began with the observation that “Pressac’s logic in interpreting the Vergasungskeller as a gas chamber depends entirely on the assumption that there was a gas chamber in Crematorium 2.” Is this an unwarranted assumption? According to Butz it was, but given the fact that there are many eye-witness testimonies that place a gas chamber in the basement of crematorium 2, it is a valid point of departure. If one posits as a hypothesis, based on the eye-witness testimonies, that morgue 1 was a gas chamber, then all kind of different pieces of evidence fall into place, such as the fact that this morgue was designed to be heated, and that construction documents refer to a “gasdoor” with a “spy-hole of double 8 mm glass with a rubber seal and metal fitting” for that space, or that the other large underground space (morgue 2) is referred to as an undressing basement. The hypothesis that “Vergasungskeller” referred to morgue 1 of crematorium 2, and that this space was used as a gas chamber, can therefore be tested, and confirmed. This is what Pressac did, and this is what Dawidowski had done forty years earlier. Consequently, the burden of proof was on Butz to show that the assumption was wrong. And indeed: in his original argument he did accept this principle, and tried to show how the general assumption was invalid, and that the “alleged” gas chamber in crematorium 2 had been, in all probability, a carburation chamber.

    The three points of Butz’s argument do not support the conclusion that “the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium 2″. It is obvious why he desired to relocate it elsewhere: as long as it remained likely that the Vergasungskeller was in crematorium 2, and more specifically the basement of this building, the only possible conclusion remains that Bischoff designated morgue 1 as such, and the question remained if it was not a homicidal gas chamber, what was it then? The logic of Bischoff’s letter suggests that if the Vergasungskeller was not in the crematorium, it must have been very close, or at least at a reasonable distance. However there is no trace of any basement space close to the crematorium, or for that matter anywhere in Birkenau!

    Butz went to search for the Vergasungskeller in the wider environment of Auschwitz. It is worthwhile to quote his journey, in which he allowed to let his imagination run wild, in full.

    If the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium 2, then the questions of what and where it was are only of limited importance. It suffices, I believe, to show that the term could have applied to operations that transpired, or may have transpired, elsewhere in the camp.

    To give my favored interpretation first, it is unlikely that the town of Auschwitz had preexisting means for production and/or distribution of fuel or town gas sufficient for the needs of the huge complex of camps we call “Auschwitz.” Such needs could have been for cooking, heating, or incineration of waste, and so forth. On account of the paucity of natural gas, but abundance of coal in Europe, the Germans had extensively developed the gasification of coal. In the Auschwitz region coal was particularly abundant, so processes of coal or coke gasification were suited for the conditions there.

    In offering my earlier interpretation of the Vergasungskeller as a fuel gas generator for the crematorium ovens I wrote: “The two most common methods of producing fuel gases from coal or coke are, first, by passing air through a bed of burning coke to produce ‘coke oven gas’ and second, by passing steam through the coke to produce ‘water gas’.” I now offer almost the same interpretation, but modified so that the specific location of the Vergasungskeller is no longer known, and the gas generated is for general application and not specifically for cremation. This seems entirely justified by the engineering plans that indicate no Vergasungskeller in the crematoria, by the great likelihood that the camp required fuel gas, and in view of the easy availability of coal there.624

    Butz proved unable to point at any structure in or adjacent to the camp designed as a plant for coal or coke gasification. In fact, there was none. In order for his assumption to warrant any discussion, he should have at least suggested where this building could have been! There is, however, more. Butz assumed “the likelihood” of the camp having been supplied by gas. It would not have been too difficult to establish a certain level of certainty in this matter. Both inspection of the site, the buildings, and the engineering plans would have shown him that the infrastructure to pipe gas to the camp and its buildings was neither designed nor constructed.

    Yet Butz did not limit himself to the chimera of his “favored” or “preferred” suggestion. He also dreamed up some others.

    It has already been remarked that fuel gas generated in the camp could have been used, among other things, in waste incineration. That is, the fuel has could have served as the auxiliary fuel. There is also a second sense in which “Vergasung” can apply to waste incineration, because the technology views the waste as a combustible fuel being turned into gases. Incineration (or Verbrennung) is actually a special case of gasification (or Vergasung) in which all combustibles are oxidized to the highest degree possible, for example, producing carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of carbon monoxide (CO, a combustible gas, in which case it would be said that Vergasung had taken place). Since perfect incineration does not exist in this sense, the line between Verbrennung and Vergasung can be blurred. What is termed waste gasification, or Müllvergasung in ordinary technical German, was developed as a practical process only after the war. It appears that during the war Vergasung could have been used in the waste incineration context only in the sense of one of many specific processes taking place inside a plant viewed as performing Müllverbrennung. Thus this second sense of application of “Vergasung” to waste incineration does not seem to apply, and it is very unlikely that at Auschwitz any waste incinerator would have been spoken of as performing Vergasung.

    This possibility is nevertheless worth mentioning. There was a waste incinerator in what I would call the chimney housing behind the cremation ovens in Crematorium II. The effluent gases from the incinerator combined with the effluent of the ovens in sharing the chimney and the suction type forced draft system. I do not believe that the “Vergasungskeller” was this chimney housing because, apart from the reasons already given, it was not referred to as such on the drawings, and seems to have had insufficient free space to serve as a plausible temporary substitute for the huge Leichenkeller 2. All the same, it is at least worth noting that “Vergasung” could apply as an inclusive description of the two processes (cremation and waste incineration) involved there. However I do not consider a waste incineration interpretation of the Vergasungskeller a likely possibility.625

    It is unnecessary to comment on these two paragraphs of a book that is claimed on its jacket to be “unsurpassed as the standard scholarly refutation of the Holocaust extermination story,” and which in a German negationist review of the literature is still celebrated as the “revisionist standard work.”626 Perhaps all we need to do to comment on Butz’s vaporous yes/no/yes/no argument is to add the observation that the word “Vergasungskeller” indicates a basement space, and the incineration room in the chimney housing was above ground.

    Butz finally arrived at a third possibility, as preposterous as the preceding:

    In the vicinity of the crematoria at Birkenau there were three sewage treatment plants (Kläranlagen) in various stages of completion. Sewage treatment amounts basically to the acceleration of the natural processes in which bacteria metabolize solid waste into gases and inoffensive solids (sludge), and to the disposal or use of these products. There are several senses in which Vergasung could arise.627

    Butz proceeded to discuss the possible use of the term “Vergasung” in the processes of aeration and chlorination of sewage, in spontaneous methane production from sewage, sewer gasification, and sludge incineration. Yet all his speculations were to no avail, as he had to admit himself.

    I have not located the Vergasungskeller in the sewage plants. Rather, I have listed five senses in which generation of, or treatment with, a gas comes up in sewage technology. I have not found the term “Vergasungskeller” or “Vergasungskammer” in the German literature on wastewater treatment, but that is not necessary. The document in question [i.e.Bischoff’s letter of 29 January 1943] was not written by a sewage engineer; it was written by a construction engineer for the information of another construction engineer, and the author never imagined that half a century later people would be poring over his hurried note. Nevertheless, I still favour the first interpretation offered, namely that the Vergasungskeller was a generator of fuel or town gas intended for general use.

    Only the study of complete engineering plans for the camp could settle this question.628

    Mr.Butz may rest assured that in none of the plans for the sewage treatment plant, which have all been preserved, there are any spaces, and to be more specific basement spaces, for the aeration or chlorination of sewage, the removal of methane, sewer gas, or the incineration of sludge. Neither do the engineering plans of the camp indicate any space, certainly not below ground, that could have served any such function.629

    Butz obviously did not really believe the arguments he had proposed in 1992, because in 1997 he came back to the issue. He promised to offer an interpretation “more plausible than any earlier offered by me or anybody else.”630 The Vergasungskeller had been a gas shelter! “[W]e should view all three cellars in Crematorium 2 as emergency air raid shelters, with only one being provided with the additional measures to make it effective as a gas shelter.”631 As Butz derived this last interpretation from one proposed eighteen years earlier by a certain Wilhelm Stäglich, I will leave my refutation of this proposal for my discussion of Stäglich’s suggestion.

    As more documents produced by the Central Building Office became available in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Butz faced the need to address other issues than the problem of the Vergasungskeller. One of these documents was the order, dated February 26, 1943, for 10 gas detectors.632 The French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, whom I will discuss at length in the following chapter, had responded to the discovery of the order for the gas detectors with the argument that this order should not surprise. According to him the gas detectors had been meant to detect carbonmonoxide and carbondioxide. “[T]he firm Topf & Sons, manufacturers for crematory ovens, routinely supplied detectors for CO and CO2.” And Faurisson added, “why try to convince us that this type of company, on receipt of an order for “gas detectors,” would have understood by way of telepathy than in this case it was to supply detectors for HCN (and not CO and CO2) and…that it would be in a position to furnish an item that it didn’t manufacture?”633 This convinced the negationists for some time. Then Jean-Claude Pressac found Topf’s response, dated March 2, 1943, to the order of the gas detectors.

    Re: Crematorium, Gas detectors.

    We acknowledge receipt of your telegram specifying “Immediately send ten gas detectors as agreed, price quote to follow.”

    We hereby inform you that two weeks ago we inquired, of five different companies, concerning the residual prussic acid detection devices sought by you. We have received negative responses from three companies and two have not yet answered.

    When we receive information on this matter, we shall immediately contact you, in order to put you in touch with a company that makes these devices.634

    Faurisson’s initial “attack”635 had failed. Then he regrouped, and explained that it was to be expected that the Central Construction Office would have ordered HCN gas detectors because morgue 1, the gassing cellar, was used as a delousing room.636 Yet this explanation did not satisfy Butz. He rightly noticed that if the gas detectors had been indeed used for normal delousing operations, the SS Central Construction Office would not have ordered them from the furnace maker Topf, but from the Degesch company, the firm with normally supplied delousing equipment.637

    So how to explain the gas detectors without assuming the use of morgue 1 as a gas chamber. Butz, as may be expected, came up with a very ingenious solution. He noticed in the plans for crematoria 2 and 3 a waste incinerator, located close to the chimney.

    […] HCN release was possible in the waste incinerator, which shared the chimney with the crematory ovens. Many materials may release HCN when burned. Among these are many fabrics, a highly relevant observation because the waste incinerator was most likely used to incinerate used camp fabrics (such as inmate uniforms, bed linen, and mattresses).638 For example, Nylon and wool can release HCN when burned, a fact that has been known since the Thirties.639

    Thus began Butz’s speculation that because ersatz cloth that had become popular in wartime Germany had a high rayon content, the camp uniforms were also made from rayon. He had to admit that rayon itself did not produce hydrocyanide when burned as it had no nitrogen in its chemical composition. Yet he was not going to be stopped by this.

    The burning of rayon can generate HCN gas if the rayon is impregnated with, but not chemically bound to, compounds of ammonia, which supply the necessary nitrogen.[…] [A]mmonium compounds are added to many fabrics to make them flame retardant (this is sometimes called “fireproofing,” but that cannot be done literally with ordinary fabrics).


    While I do not have a document that says so, I consider it very plausible that many concentration camp fabrics were treated with flame retardants for security reasons, that is, to limit the effects of fires started by inmates. This would have been particularly the case with bed linens and mattress fillings. Thus I am proposing the possibility that fabrics used in the camps, destined to be disposed of ny incineration, were known to present a danger of evolution of HCN in such incineration.640

    It is obvious that Butz had not the ability to stretch anyone’s imagination to the point of absurdity. Not only is there no evidence that the Germans fireproofed the inmate uniforms and their (non existent) bed linens and (non existent) mattresses, it is even more highly implausible that they would have cared to do so.

    At the end of his highly original and also highly implausible interpretation of the purpose of the gas detectors Butz offered some general observations on the problems revisionist have in dealing with the kind of evidence Faurisson and he had tried to interpret.

    [T ]he revisionists may not be able to immediately offer correct replies to the defenders of the [extermination] legend. This appears to me to have been the case with the Topf letter. I don’t believe Faurisson’s immediate replies (which I would also have made) were correct. In fact nobody could be relied on to be correct under the circumstances and on the time schedule involved. A comparison: there is much building activity at Northwestern University now. Does anybody believe that, 50 years from now, perhaps after some cataclysm, anybody could reliably interpret individual documents that were records of this construction? Of course not.641 Nobody could do that, and nobody could infallibly interpret every Auschwitz document from the period 1941-1945.642 Indeed, the hypothesis I have advanced here may be wrong, even though I have had a few years to consider the solitary document in question.643

    Some years ago I warned of these dangers. It is not our of the question that, some day, an authentic Auschwitz document might utterly confound the revisionists–that is, raise some apparently relevant question of detail that they will be unable to answer. In the event of such a development, I can only urge that the context–that is, the massive documentation and historical context supporting the revisionist position–be kept firmly in mind.644

    It is obvious that Butz, for all his bravado, is not comfortable with the position he is in.

    And he has reason to be. Rassinier did not only inspire negationist activity in the United States. He also urged two German eyewitnesses of Auschwitz “to come out” in order to present their exculpatory testimonies to the world. The first person was a certain Thies Christophersen, who served in one of the satellite camps of Auschwitz in 1944, and who published in 1973 a booklet entitled Die Auschwitz Lüge (The Auschwitz Lie). Richard Harwood, author of Did Six Million Really Die?, considered Christophersen’s account as “one of the most important documents for a re-appraisal of Auschwitz.”

    [It] adds to a mounting collection of evidence demonstrating that the giant industrial complex of Auschwitz (comprising thirty different installations and divided by the main Cracow-Vienna railway line) was nothing but a vast war production centre, which, while admittedly employing the compulsory labor of detainees, was certainly not a place of “mass extermination.”645

    So what does one read in a document so celebrated by the negationists?

    I was in Auschwitz from January to December 1944. After the war I heard about the alleged mass murders of Jews and I was quite taken aback. Despite all the testimony submitted and all the reports in the media, I know such atrocities were never committed.646

    How could he be so certain? Christophersen was willing to give a full account.

    In May my wife, for the first time, came to visit me. She was a teacher in agricultural home economics and was curious about my work at the concentration camp. This fact alone, that we were able to have our relatives visit us at any time, should prove that the camp administration had nothing to hide. Had Auschwitz been the death factory it is reputed to have been, such visits would certainly not have been permitted.647

    Christophersen did not take into account that the killings took place in a separate zone some miles away from where he was stationed, and that this zone was a “Sperrgebiet” absolutely “verboten” for not only the wives of SS men, but even for any SS man who had no direct business there. This zone was at the eastern edge of Birkenau. Most parts of the camp at Birkenau were, however, open to SS men like Christophersen, and he indeed recalled visiting the camp once.

    “The death camp was not in Auschwitz, it was at Birkenau.” This is what I heard and read after the war. Well, I was also in Birkenau. This camp I did not like. It was overcrowded and the people there did not make a good impression on me. Everything looked neglected and grubby. I also saw families with children. It hurt to see them, but I was told that the authorities felt it kinder not to separate children from their parent when the latter were interned. Some children played ball merrily enough….

    I had ben commissioned to pick 100 workers for hoeing the Kok-Sagis plants. At roll call the inmates were asked if they were interested in this work and if they had done it before. Then followed the “selection” of the workers. This “selection” was later completely misinterpreted. The purpose was to give the inmates something to do and they themselves wanted to be occupied. Selecting them meant no more than to inquire about their inclinations, their capabilities, and their physical state of health with regard to the work they were to do.648

    Christophersen obviously suffered from Butz’s logic, or for that matter Faurisson’s hermeneutical principle, that a word can have only one meaning, or that it has no meaning it all.

    In the same way that Rassinier claimed to have travelled the whole of Europe in search for authentic eyewitnesses of the gassings, Christophersen began an Odyssee in search of the crematoria, following the directions of his maid Olga.

    One evening my mother asked about the crematorium where corpses were supposed to be burned. I knew nothing about this, so I asked Olga. She could not tell me anything either. She did intimate, however, that around Bielitz there always was what seemed to be a reflection against the sky, as if from a fire.

    So I went in the direction of Bielitz and there found a mining camp in which some inmates also worked. I travelled around the entire camp and examined all fire grates and all smoke stacks, but found nothing. I asked my colleagues; the answer…a shrug of the shoulder and “don ‘t pay any attention to those rumors.” Actually there was a crematorium in Auschwitz, I was told for there were 20,000 [in the German edition 200,000!] people there and any city of that size has a crematorium. Of course people died here as they did elsewhere, but not only inmates at the camp. The wife of one of our supervisors [in the German edition Obersturmbannführer A.] had also died there. As far as I was concerned, that was enough of an answer.649

    After the publication of Die Auschwitz Lüge Simon Wiesenthal urged in a letter to the President of the German Bar Association that Mr. Roeder, who had written a preface and published the book, warranted an investigation by the ethics committee. Wiesenthal’s letter was handed to Roeder, who replied in a letter of 30 May 1973 that the gassing and burning of Jews had been technically impossible.

    There would not have been enough fuel to be found during the war in the entire sphere of German influence to burn just a fraction of so many human bodies. And the huge installations necessary for such an undertaking have disappeared from the face of the earth without a trace. Nothing, absolutely nothing could be found after the war. It might interest you that I know enough eyewitnesses now who were in Auschwitz after the war who confirm all the observations made by Mr.Christophersen: there have never been such extermination installations! But these witnesses fear reprisals by the Poles and certain Jewish organizations, should they come out in the open with the truth.650

    One other witness, however, was prepared “to come out in the open with the truth.” In response to Christophersen’s account, a Hamburg Judge, Dr.Wilhelm Stäglich, testified in an article published in the ultra-right Nation Europa that in the summer of 1944 he had served with an anti-aircraft battery unit near Auschwitz. In order to obtain food, Stäglich had gone a few times to the camp, which had its own slaughterhouse and bakery.

    If memory serves, I was inside the camp three or four times altogether. On none of these visits did I see gassing installations, crematoria, instruments of torture, or similar horrors. The camp gave on the impression of being well-kept and very well-organized.651

    Flattered by the attention he had received, Stäglich went to work on his magnum opus his massive Der Auschwitz Mythos (The Auschwitz Myth), which was published in 1979. Stäglich’s aim, as set out in the introduction, was “to survey, examine, and assess as objectively as possible the evidence that has thus far been presented for the claim that Auschwitz was a ‘death factory.'” Stäglich acknowledged that other camps were connected to the Holocaust. But he did not feel obliged to consider them. Like Butz had already declared in his book, he was convinced “that the extermination thesis stands or falls with the allegation that Auschwitz was a ‘death factory.'”652

    Stäglich began systematically. He divided the material into three groups: documentary evidence which was produced at the time of the camp’s operation, post-war personal accounts, and post-war legal proceedings. In his chapter on documentary evidence Stäglich first dealt with the basic documents, such as the Göring decree of July 31, 1941 that charged Heydrich to create a comprehensive proposal for the intended Final Solution of the Jewish Question, and the Protocol of the Wannsee Conference.

    Then Stäglich turned to the documents regarding Auschwitz. First of all he found it suspicious that the Soviet prosecutors in the Nuremberg Trial, after announcing that they had recovered a voluminous correspondence concerning the construction of the crematoria, had chosen not to bring that material in evidence, with exception of a few documents. One of these documents was Bischoff’s letter of January 29, 1943, which mentioned the noun Vergasungskeller Stäglich referred to Butz’s interpretation, and then added a second “plausible” explanation: “this room was intended for the fumigation of clothing and other personal effects, a common practice in all concentration camps. The proprietary hydrocyanic fumigant Zyklon B used for this purpose is supposed to have been used for the ‘extermination of Jews’ as well.”653 This was the first of many alternative suggestions Stäglich was to offer, and which like all of them is characterized by a total ignorance of the circumstances. The rooms designed for fumigation of clothing and other objects were always constructed in such a way that they had two doors: one entrance and one exit. The entrance door opened to the unreine (unclean) side, the exit door opened to the reine (clean) side. This arrangement conformed not only to common sense, but also to specific SS regulations issued by the SS construction bureau in 1941, and determined the design of the special delousing facilities constructed in Auschwitz and Birkenau.654 Furthermore the SS built a very large delousing installation, the so-called Cenral Sauna, right between crematoria 3 and 4. It was constructed following the guidelines issued by the SS construction bureau. One wonders why the SS would have erected the Central Sauna if the crematoria already provided such ample delousing capacity. Even in Auschwitz there was a limit to the need for delousing instllations. Yet not held down by any specific knowledge, Stäglich rushed to his conclusion:

    Since Bischoff’s letter of January 29, 1943 is the only known document from the Auschwitz camp files in which the word “Vergasung” is used in connection with the crematoria, one should now realize that there is no documentary evidence for the allegation that chambers for killing people by means of lethal gas were part of the crematoria.655

    After doubting the evidence when the crematoria were completed, Stäglich went on to dispute even whether there had been four crematoria in Birkenau. Invoking the post-war sketch book of Alfred Kantor, Stäglich observed that none of his drawings showed more than one crematorium or more than one crematorium chimney. This argument is simply wrong because on p. 34 of his sketchbook Kantor shows in a general overview of the camp at the horizon three columns of black smoke, which through comparison with other depictions of those same columns of smoke (pages 53, 54, 60, 68, 72, 73) clearly refer to three crematoria bellowing smoke.656 Furthermore Stäglich argued that “a person who toured the grounds of the former Birkenau camp without a guide and who is unquestionably reliable, so far as I am concerned, told me he saw the ostensible remains of crematoria 2 and 3, but could find no trace of crematoria 4 and 5.”657 This statement only proves that it pays to hire a guide when visiting Birkenau: the remains are there to be seen, and indeed are seen by most visitors as they are adjacent to the pond where, for a short time in 1944, the Germans dumped the ashes produced by crematorium 4–the pond which made televison history when, in the 1973 BBC television series The Ascent of Man, Jakob Bronowski was filmed walking into that pond whilst giving a peroration on the darker side of technological progress.

    Stäglich also reviewed the incineration capacity of the crematoria, and he claimed there were no reliable data.

    In the literature on the camp, yet another report by SS-Sturmbannführer Bischoff, dated June 28, 1943, is frequently cited. It states that the individual crematoria were capable of incinerating the following number of corpses daily.

    1.old crematorium (parent camp) 340 corpses
    2.new crematorium (Birkenau) 1,440 corpses
    3.new crematorium (Birkenau) 1,440 corpses
    4.new crematorium (Birkenau) 768 corpses
    5.new crematorium (Birkenau) 768 corpses
    Total 4,756 corpses

    Where this report was discovered is not mentioned. On the subject of the incineration capacity of the crematoria one usually cites as the authority a “Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau (“Chronology of Events in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp”), complied by Danuta Czech, Custodian of the Polish States Museum at Auschwitz. I have been unable to determine whether this lady was ever interned at the camp or what her source of information may be.

    The estimates listed above strike one as absurd. The sheer punctiliousness of the accounting–right down to the very last corpse–is suspicious, for cremation is a complicated technical process, involving so many variables that the incineration capacity of a crematorium is not always the same.658

    Some research would have helped.Stäglich would have found that the document was found in the archive of the Zentralbauleiting and that it was held in the Auschwitz museum. What is truly astonishing, however, is that he did not compare Bischoff’s numbers to what Stäglich refers to as the “alleged” number of ovens in Birkenau. On the following page he mentions that the Polish State Auschwitz Museum claims that the four crematoria in Birkenau had 46 “cremation units,” or muffles, and that even Butz had accepted that number. Later he mentions that the Report of the Soviet War Crimes Commission made the “careless” statement that “the four crematoria in Birkenau had, altogether, 12 ‘ovens’ with 46 ‘retorts.”–a number which, at that point, Stäglich considers “not many.”659 Be that as it may, what is interesting is that if we take the total capacity of crematoria 2 to 5 (1,440 +1,440 +768 +768 =4,416) and divide this number by 46, we come to the exact number of 96 corpses per “cremation unit” or “retort” or “muffle” per day. This should have given Stäglich some reason to reconsider the validity of the information provided by the museum and the Soviets. Even a cursory comparison between the document and information available to him would have shown that crematorium 1 had in 1943 six muffles, crematoria 2 and 3 fifteen muffles each, and crematoria 4 and 5 eight muffles each, and that as a result Bischoff assumed for accounting purposes for crematoria II to V a cremation capacity of 96 corpses per muffle per day, or an average of 4 corpses per muffle per hour (24 x 4 =96; 15 x 96 =1,440; 8 x 96 =768). The old crematorium had a lower capacity per muffle per day, because the ovens were of an older design and construction. Of course: these numbers are averages, and include down time for cleaning and so on. It is important to note here that Bischoff’s numbers are conservative. In his notes on the Final Solution in Auschwitz, Höss noted that “[j]e nach Körperbeschaffenheit wurden bis zu drei Leichen in eine Ofenkammer gebracht. Auch die Dauer der Verbrennung war durch die Körperbeschaffenheit bedingt. Es dauerte im Durchschnitt 20 Minuten. [Depending on the size of the bodies, up to three corpses could be brought into one muffle. Also the duration for the incineration was determined by the size of the body. On average it took 20 minutes.]”660 This means that one muffle could burn a maximum of nine bodies per hour. Bischoff’s number is less than half.

    Undeterred, Stäglich soldiered on. Taking as his point of departure a double-muffle oven delivered to Mauthausen with a capacity of ten to 35 corpses per ten hours, he assumed that the Auschwitz ovens would be the same.

    Starting with the premise that there really were four crematoria in Birkenau, and that each crematorium contained one oven capable of cremating at most 35 corpses per diem then the highest capacity of all four crematoria would be a total of 140 corpses daily. That does not seem excessive for a complex the size of Auschwitz, each component camp of which was planned for over 100,000 inmates–all the more so, since contagious diseases were rampant there….

    While these are no more than purely hypothetical estimates, they are probably closer to reality than the absurd figures given in the letter attributed to SSSturmbannführer Bischoff–even if one assumes that all four crematoria had 46 units….

    The claim that the Birkenau crematoria were built only for use in a “mass extermination program” thus proves to be totally false.661

    It will be clear by now that Stäglich refuses to consider the evidence at hand. He complains in the next page that he has copies of the plans of the crematoria, but he did not find it necessary to consult them when “hypothetically” establishing the number of crematoria ovens. They are only useful to him when it concerns his argument that they did not reveal a provision for a gas chamber.

    We can continue analysis of Stäglich’s arguments at nauseatam only to reveal that his total inability or unwillingness to responsibly and rationally weigh the evidence at hand. He mentions, for example, a letter that talks about a gas door for corpse cellar I in crematorium, equipped with a peep-hole made of 8-mm glass.

    Could this be the famous peep-hole through which the SS physicians who allegedly supervised the “gassing” of inmates are said to have observed the death–throes of the victims? Probably not. Like the other documents of its kind, it really proves nothing. At that time, gas-tight doors were not uncommon, since every cellar had to double as an air raid shelter. The peep-holes in these doors were a source of light and a means of observing the outside….Air raid shelters had to be secure not only against explosives, but against gas as well. Considering that Birkenau had no other fortified places, it would only have been common sense to make the cellars of the crematoria into air raid shelters.

    Stäglich’s speculation is non-sensical. First of all if, as he assumed, corpse cellar 1 was used as a mortuary, then the problem arises about the protocol during an air raid. Would the living join the putrefying dead for the duration of the alarm? Furthermore the design of the structure does not indicate an air-raid shelter. The concrete columns are enough to support the roof, but not to withstand a bomb. In fact, when the gas chamber of crematorium I was adapted into a air raid shelter in 1944, the room was subdivided that very reason in many small rooms, divided by heavy walls designed to support the reinforced roof. Finally the location; unlike crematorium I, crematorium II and III were very far from any location where SS were present in sufficient numbers to warrant such a facility. In Auschwitz I, crematorium I was adjacent to the SS hospital and the SS Kommandantur, and thereby was the obvious structure to be made into an air raid shelter; in Birkenau the alleged air raid shelters of crematoria II and III were more than a mile distant from the SS quarters.

    In conclusion Stäglich determined that those who believed that the documents he presented supported the extermination hypothesis revealed their critical ineptitude, gullibility, and prejudice. “No historian who holds to the traditional scholarly methods of researching and evaluating sources would accept a mode of argumentation based on the premise that documents can be made to serve a desired end by the use of unwarranted assumptions and arbitrary interpretations.”664 After a critical examination of his methods, it is clear that his judgement certainly applied to his own mode of argumentation.

    Stäglich’s book was enthusiastically received by the negationists, and continues up to today to be one of the staples in their mail-order catalogues. He was invited to join the editorial advisory committee of the Journal of Historical Review, and gave a paper on his book and experiences at the fifth International Revisionist Conference in 1983.665

    And then there was, of course, Richard Harwood’s Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last. Like all the other negationist works, it claimed direct descent from Rassinier’s work.

    Since the war, Rassinier has, in fact, toured Europe in search of somebody who was an actual eye-witness of gas chamber exterminations in German concentration camps during World War Two, but he has never found even one such person….Certainly, the most important fact to emerge from Rassinier’s studies, and of which there is now no doubt at all, is the utter imposture of “gas chambers”.666

    For Harwood, the whole Holocaust was a piece of atrocity propaganda created by Jews to swindle the Germans.

    With exception of the writings of Robert Faurisson, which will be discussed in the next chapter, the work of Rassinier, Butz, Christophersen, Stäglich and Harwood constituted the main body of revisionist scholarship on Auschwitz in the year that Irving joined that cause. After slogging through a significant and representative cross-section of their arguments, it will be clear that none of the writings considered are worthy of the designation “scholarship.”

    VIII Auschwitz and the Faurisson Affair

    Demnant: “There are people who claim that in Auschwitz Jews were never gassed.”

    Klehr: “Jews never gassed? No? Yes, I have already been asked about that…Three elderly ladies come to visit us here. That is such an official society. They always want to support us a little bit, to give us a present on our birthdays, and so on, and one of them asked me once if people were gassed in Auschwitz? I said–I will tell you openly and honestly, but if it were someone else, I would have answered that I did not know. But because it is you, I will tell you precisely, that people were gassed. And anyone who maintains that there are no gassing…Yes, I don’t understand him, he must be crazy or on the wrong….When you are three, four years in Auschwitz and experiences everything, then I cannot get myself to lie about it and say that no gassings were conducted.”667

    Josef Klehr, former SS guard in Auschwitz, in interview with Ebbo Demnant, 1978.

    When, in September 1996, David Irving took out a Writ of Summons against Penguin Books Ltd, Deborah Lipstadt, and four book sellers, a new act began in a public drama that had begun eighteen years earlier as the so-called Faurisson Affair. The central issue at stake in this drama was the allegation that Auschwitz had not been an extermination camp, that the gas chambers belonged to the world of legend, and that, consequently, the Holocaust was a Hoax. The central protagonist in this drama was the onetime lecturer in French literature at the University of Lyons-2, Dr. Robert Faurisson. It was Faurisson who brought Holocaust denial to public attention, it was Faurisson who orchestrated the defence of the two Zündel Trials in Toronto, it was Faurisson who created in early 1988 the brief for Leuchter’s investigation in Auschwitz–the very investigation that produced the Leuchter report which pulled David Irving into the middle of the second Zündel Trial, which in turn led to Deborah Lipstadt’s description of David Irving’s role in the trial which has become the content of Irving’s complaint against Penguin, Lipstadt, and the four others. Therefore, in order to understand the background of the events of 1988, it is necessary to consider the so-called “Faurisson Affair” in some detail.

    As a student of French literature, Faurisson developed early a special interest in debunkment, using a radical method of textual criticism he called the “Ajax method” because “it scours as it cleans as it shines.” All of this was of little public interest, until Faurisson turned his attention to the Holocaust, and more specifically Auschwitz. Surveying the literature, the great debunker found many contradictions in, among other things, statements about the total number of victims who had died in Auschwitz. Shortly after the liberation the Russians had given the number of four million victims. Commandant Rudolf Höss had mentioned at one time three million victims, of whom two and half million had been gassed–the rest having died from “natural causes,” and at another time had mentioned a number of some 1,130,000 victims. And as historians like Gerald Reitlinger had estimated that there “only” 700,000 Jews had died in Auschwitz. Then Faurisson discovered other contradictions in the literature: for example, the plan of the crematoria published in the war-time War Refugee Board report, based on the testimony of two escaped prisoners and released in November 1944, showed little relation to the plans of the crematoria published after the war. And of course, many witness testimonies contradicted each other, while some plagiarized other texts. Faurisson concluded that all these contradictions pointed only at one possible conclusion: the story that Auschwitz had been an extermination camp was a hoax.

    One cannot deny that he worked hard to make himself at home in the subject. For example, in 1975 he visited Auschwitz for one day, and in 1976 he stayed there for ten days. Ten years after his first visit, he was sufficiently at home in the subject to be qualified as an expert witness for the defence on the subject in the first Zündel Trial in Toronto. In the examination in which the defence counsel Douglas Christie presented Faurisson’s credentials, the issue of his first visit to Auschwitz came up.

    [Christie]: “Right. In your inquiry what did you do then?”
    [Faurisson]: “So I went to visit first what is called Crematorium 1.”
    Q.: “Where is that?”
    A.: “In Auschwitz I.”
    Q.: “Yes.”
    A.: “you have in the same building a path, on the left, called ‘Krematorium,’ and on the right a place called ‘Gas Chamber.”
    Q.: “Yes.”
    A.: “I got first into the place called ‘Krematorium’. There were there two furnaces with two openings.”
    Q.: “What did you do?”
    A.: “I noticed some things which were not normal.”
    Q.: “What did you notice? Tells us what you noticed.”
    A.: “I noticed, for example, that there was no soot at all.”
    Q.: “How did you find that out?”
    A.: “Putting my finger like that, I saw that there was no soot.”
    Q.: “Inside the furnaces?”
    A.: “yes.”
    Q.: “All right.”
    A.: “So I decided to find the highest possible responsible….”
    Q.: “person.”
    A.: “….person, of the Auschwitz Museum.”
    Q.: “And then what did you do.”
    A.: “I found that man called [J]an Machalek. I asked him to come to the spot. I asked him if those ovens were genuine or not.”
    Q.: “Yeah. Don’t tell us what he said. What did you ask him for?”
    A.: “I can say that I showed all the same that there was no soot?”
    Q.: “Yes.”
    A.: “Okay. The conclusion was that it was a reconstruction, a rebuilding and not something genuine.”668

    A specialist in scouring words, Faurisson had discovered like a latter-day Holmes the implications of the immaculate muffles of the Auschwitz incinerators. And he remembered that, thirty years earlier, a certain toxologist René Faivre had investigated a room in the concentration camp Strutthof in the Alsace by taking samples from the walls around the ventilation system and having them analyzed forensically. The results had been lost. And, ignoring Polish investigations that had established the presence of the hydrogen cyanide in six zinc ventilation covers of the gas chamber of crematorium 2, and dismissing similar tests that had found such traces in the many bags of human hair found near the crematoria–the French scholar maintained that it would have been a usual practice to “disinfect” human hair with Zyklon B669–Faurisson wondered if it was not time to repeat Faivre’s experiment in Auschwitz.670

    Yet unlike Holmes, Faurisson proved a lousy student of evidence. In the following pages, I will consider Faurisson’s published writings, concentrating on the manner in which he deals with Auschwitz. I will ignoring for the sake of brevity the more biographical aspects of Faurisson’s turn to Holocaust denial.

    As I have discussed in Chapter Five, one of the important contemporary pieces of evidence concerning the use of Auschwitz as an extermination camp is the war-time diary of Dr. Johann Paul Kremer, Dozent of Anatomy at the University of Münster. Kremer had served in Auschwitz in the late Summer and Fall of 1942. Faurisson “attacked” the text of Kremer’s diary in a 50-page essay entitled “Professor of Medicine Johann Paul Kremer Faces the Horrors Caused by Typhus in Auschwitz during September and October 1942.”671 It began with a two-page introduction about the prevalence of exanthematous typhus during the Second World War, and the German inability to suppress it. The horror of Bergen-Belsen was caused by exanthematous typhus, and both the Germans before the liberation of the camp and the English afterwards could do little about it.

    Neither the Germans nor the English killed in Bergen-Belsen; typhus killed: first and foremost typhus, but also other related epidemics caused by malnutrition. There was in Belsen not a “war crime” (“crime de guerre“) perpetrated by one particular nation but, if one desires to hold on to the term “crime” (which is always off when one talks about war), one should say, in my judgement, that those horrors are “a crime of war” (“un crime de la guerre“), a “crime” caused by human folly. As the famous engraving of Dürer shows, peste accompanies war.672

    We will forego the task of analyzing Faurisson’s exculpating language, with the suggested equivalence between the inability of the German jailors to stop the epidemic in a concentration camp of their making and the inability of the English liberators to immediately stop the ravaging effects of the disease after they took over the camp. Instead we will concentrate on Faurisson’s textual analysis of Kremer’s diary. The first observation one can make is that Faurisson’s approach was wrought with contradiction. Following his own principles of textual exegesis, Faurisson completely discarded any testimony given in Cracow–that is any external evidence given by the author of the diary that helped to elucidate his own text. Yet, at the same time, Faurisson was happy to provide an exegesis of various diary entries to establish that Dr. Kremer was first of all a decent scientist. For example, on January 13, 1943, Kremer wrote that “There is no Aryan, Negroid, Mongoloid or Jewish science, only true or false science.”

    I had never dreamt there existed anything like “a gagged science.” By such manoeuvres science has received a mortal blow and has been banished from the country! The situation in Germany today is no better than in the times when Galileo was forced to recant and when science was threatened by tortures and the stake. Where, for Heaven’s sake, is this situation going to lead us in the twentieth century!!! I could almost feel ashamed to be a German. And so I shall have to end my days as a victim of science and a fanatic of truth.673

    Faurisson happily quoted these lines as a character reference, but remarkably failed to provide the context of Kremer’s observation on the state of science in Germany.

    Mrs. Glaser left for Krefeld today. I heard from Gülker at the Sanitary Office for National Health that Fenner had put in a good word for me at the District Office–concerning the chair of heredity biology–but that they had told him I would not be taken into consideration on account of my Driburg work–A Noteworthy Contribution to the Problem of the Hereditary Nature of Deformations-.–They had nothing else against my person. There we have the much praised freedom of scholarship. It is difficult to imagine a greater gagging of it! Science with a blindfold over its eyes is and remains only a farce. And so I have really become a victim of my sincere belief in scientific ideals and in the unlimited freedom of research, as I had never even dreamt there existed anything like “a gagged science.” By such manoeuvres science has received a mortal blow….674

    In other words, Kremer’s outburst was triggered by problems he faced in his career: as a Dozent he was, at the age of fifty-nine, stuck at the bottom end of the academic hierarchy, and his attempt to spend the last ten years of his academic career in the well-paid and highly-honored comfort of a chair had obviously failed. Given this context, it is clear that, without any further corroboration, his rant cannot be taken as convincing evidence for his integrity as a scientist.

    Faurisson also desired to portray Kremer as a true humanitarian. For this he quoted the diary entry of July 26, 1945, when German refugees from the East were streaming into Münster.

    The weather is still very hot and dry. The corn ripens before its time, gnats are pestering us more than ever, and Russians, Poles and Italians still harass the starving, needy and homeless inhabitants. People are crowded in goods trains like cattle and carried hither and thither, while at night they try to find shelter in the stench of dirty, verminous bunkers. Quite indescribable is the fate of these poor refugees, driven into uncertainty by death, hunger and despair.675

    Having constructed Kremer’s moral universe, Faurisson ventured to reconstruct the circumstances of his time in Auschwitz. For that purpose he provided one page with the various entries in the so-called “Auschwitz Calendarium” that mention a exanthematous typhus epidemic during the summer of 1942. Thus Kremer had arrived in Auschwitz in the midst of a typhus epidemic. And Faurisson proceeded to quote the various references in Kremer’s diary to exanthematous typhus.

    After having argued the presence of a typhus epidemic, which no-one contests, Faurisson had to “neutralize” Kremer’s entries that mentioned outright murder. The most problematic one was, of course, the entry of September 2.

    September 2, 1942. Was present for the first time at a special action at 3 a.m. By comparison Dante’s inferno seems almost a comedy. Auschwitz is justly called an extermination camp!676

    Not without justification, Faurisson showed that the translation of this text was imprecise. The original German is slightly different.

    Zum 1. Male draussen um 3 Uhr früh bei einer Sonderaktion zugegen. Im Vergleich hierzu erscheint mir das Dante’sche Inferno fas wie eine Komödie. Umsonst wird Auschwitz nicht das Lager der Vernichtung genannt. 677

    Faurisson noted that the adverb “draussen” (“outside”) had not been included in the translation, and neither had been the personal pronoun “mir” (“to me”). Furthermore in German Auschwitz was called “das lager der Vernichtung” (“the camp of extermination”) and not “an extermination camp.” Hence the correct translation should read as follows:

    September 2, 1942. Was present for the first time outside at a special action at 3 a.m. By comparison Dante’s inferno seems to me almost a comedy. Auschwitz is justly called the camp of extermination!

    All of this made a tremendous difference, according to Faurisson. “Special Actions,” so he claimed, were usually interpreted as gassings. Yet Kremer said that he participated in a special action that took place outside. Hence it could not refer to a gassing, since the Germans gassed people inside.678 Then there was the issue of the term “Vernichtung” and the fact that Kremer called Auschwitz “the camp of extermination.” This, Faurisson claimed, did not refer to what legend knows as “an extermination camp,” but to “a camp in which extermination occurs.”

    To understand the entry of September 2, Faurisson claimed, it was necessary to put it in the context of the entries of September 1 and September 3.

    September 1, 1942. Have ordered SS officer’s cap, sword-belt and brace from Berlin by letter. In the afternoon was present at the gassing of a block with Cyclon B against lice.

    September 2, 1942. Was present for the first time at a special action at 3 a.m. By comparison Dante’s inferno seems almost a comedy. Auschwitz is justly called an extermination camp!

    September 3, 1942. Was for the first time taken ill with the diarrhoea which attacks everybody in the camp here. Vomiting and colic-like paroxysmal pains. Water did not cause it as I had not drunk any. Neither was it the bread. People who take white bread only (diet) also fall ill. Most probably it is the unhealthy tropical climate, very dry and tropically hot, with clouds of dust and insects (flies).679

    This context made it clear, Faurisson argued, that the entry of September 2 should be considered within the context of the epidemic, referred to obliquely in the entry of September 1 as the delousing of a barrack with Zyklon B serves to kill the primary hosts of the typhus virus: lice. There is a description of the effects of illness in the entry of September 3. Thus the entry of September 2 ought be read as referring to an event related to the epidemic. Noting that Kremer had not provided the potentially incriminating term Sonderaktion within quotations marks, Faurisson observed that this was absolutely appropriate because the term Sonderaktion routinely occurred in German military vocabulary.

    The real work of professor of medicine Johann Paul Kremer at Auschwitz is his laboratory research on all kinds of diseases, especially typhus. But at times he is also asked to participate in special actions: assist in taking charge of a transport, in solving some difficulty, at the sorting of the ill in the hospital wards, and so on. I believe to know that, in the French army, all extra efforts, which are not really covered within one’s normal duties, carry the pompous name “mission exceptionelle” (special mission), the word “mission” denoting a “task” without necessarily implying an idea of movement. At three o’clock in the morning, Dr. Kremer is asked for a special action that takes place “outside” (draussen), which means that there are also special actions that take place “inside” (drinnen). It is a pity that we cannot precisely establish what this action was, but we know it was horrible, at least in his eyes….One always claims that this special action concerned the arrival of a convoy from Drancy. That is not impossible. In fact, a convoy from Drancy arrived in Auschwitz on September 2, 1942. One should verify the hour of arrival. It is not difficult to imagine the arrival of those people who were not affected by the epidemic in a camp that has fallen prey to typhus. The task of the doctor was not only to separate those fit to work from those who are unfit….It is also necessary to find billets for the arrivals in the barracks in the camp. Or always, or almost always, there are at the place of arrival ill people and people who are on the verge of death. One should imagine the crowding. To assist with that for many hours, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes at dawn, sometimes during the day, that must have been Dantesque. One may imagine the terrible anxiety of those who arrive in that hell….After the war, in a similar fashion, the German populations deported from the East, who were discreetly referred to as “displaced persons,” were also crammed in overpopulated camps ravaged by epidemics.680

    Thus ends Faurisson’s “debunkment” of Kremer’s diary entry of September 2. The only other trumpcard he has not shown yet, but which he will produce close to the end of his essay, is the final “proof” that with the words “Dante’s Inferno” he referred to a hell caused by typhus. After all, in a letter he wrote back home on October 21, he announced that he did not know for certain, but that he expected “to be back in Münster before December 1, so that I will have definitively turned my back to this hell Auschwitz, where now not only typhus and so on reigns, but also typhoid fever.”681 And Faurisson triumphantly exclaimed:

    Here then that “inferno of Dante” of his entry of 2 September 1942! Professor of medicine Johann Paul Kremer has seen the horrors of a massive epidemic destroying in Auschwitz both prisoners and guards: he has never seen the monstrous gassing operations meant to exterminate human beings.682

    So much for the application of the “Ajax Method” to history.

    I will not deal with his attempt to negate the plain meaning of some of the other entries, and move straight to the entry of October 12.

    October 12, 1942. (The second inoculation against typhus; strong reaction in the evening (fever). In spite of this was present at night at another special action with a draft from Holland (1,600 persons). Horrible scene in front of the last bunker! Hössler!) This was the 10th special action.683

    2. Schutzimpfung gegen Typhus; danach abends starke Allgemeinreaktion (Fieber). Trotzdem in der Nacht noch bei einer Sonderaktion aus Holland (1600 personen) zugegen. Schauerliche Szene vor dem letzten Bunker (Hössler)! Das war die 10. Sonderaktion. 684

    Faurisson attached great significance to the fact that the German text did say “Sonderaktion aus Holland (1600 Personen).” It is, admittedly, rather awkward in German: “Special Action from Holland (1600 persons).” To make it grammatically correct one needs to add between “Special Action” and ‘from” something like “of a draft” or “of a group of people.” Yet this common sense interpretation of Kremer’s shorthand notation did not satisfy Faurisson’s sense of the possible. He brazenly proposed that the preposition “aus” referred to the German nouns of “Auswahl” or “Auslehse,” synonyms of “Selektion,” selection. The verb “to chose from” was in German “auswählen” or “auslesen.” On the basis of this tenuous link he proposed now that the text referred to “a simple medical selection (to separate those fit for work and those unfit for work; or also, in that situation, the sick and the healthy; or the contagious and the not-contagious) enacted on a group of 1,600 people.”685

    After much thought, the logic of Faurisson’s interpretation still eludes me, even if it was not without precedent: in 1949 the historian Jean Bruhat had employed in the Kravchenko trial the kind of philological reasoning to whitewash the Soviet regime. “The Purges of the Bolshevik Party,” he testified, present absolutely no mystery.”

    Every Soviet citizen who joins the Bolshevik Party knows that by entering it, he undertakes a certain number of responsibilities. And no one compels him to be a member of the Bolshevik Party. Among other obligations, he must accept this one, which is to account publicly at any moment for his activity. That is what is called a Purge.686

    Faurisson had no difficulty neutralizing the obvious reading of the sentence “Horrible scene in front of the last bunker!” as referring to the situation at either Bunker 1 or Bunker 2 in Birkenau, the converted cottages that served as gas chambers until the completion of the four new crematoria in the Spring of 1943. Completely ignoring the fact that both the SS and the inmates referred in common parlance to those extermination installations as “bunkers,” Faurisson stated that the true meaning of the sentence must be obvious to “anyone who knows the topography of the Auschwitz camp.” And with that he leads us to a place more than two miles distance from bunkers 1 and 2.

    The “last bunker” cannot be but the bunker at the end of the camp, the famous bunker no. 11 that houses the prison of the camp, very far from the place where the deportees disembarked (the railway platforms that also served as the place of selection). It is in front of that bunker (exactly between bunker 10 and 11) that the place of executions was located.687

    The problem, of course, is that while Faurisson may know the topography of the camp, he shows himself wholly ignorant of the nomenclature. The buildings he refers to, the camp prison and the adjacent barrack with the execution place in between, are, were, and always have been known as “Block 11” and “Block 10,” not “Bunker 11” and “Bunker 10.” The noun “bunker” referred in camp jargon either to the two cottages (1 and 2, or perhaps “the first” and “the last”) that served as gas chambers or, after the completion of crematoria 2, 3, 4 and 5, to their gas chambers probably. The latter because these gas chambers took over the function of the “bunkers.”

    Of course, Faurisson would not look at external evidence to guide his interpretation. Yet is he had chosen to do so, he could, for example, have found in his research in the Auschwitz archive a description of the situation at the “last bunker.” On May 10, 1945 Judge Jan Sehn, member of the Polish Central Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland, took the testimony of a surviving Sonderkommando of the crematoria, Shlomo Dragon. Dragon had worked at Bunker II, the gas chamber in the grove of birch forests that had been the site of most of the mass killings in the second half of 1942 and the first months of 1943. Dragon told how he was first brought to the Bunker in December 1942.

    We were taken into a forest where there was a brick cottage covered with thatch; its windows were bricked in. On the doors to the interior of the cottage was a metal plate with the inscription “Hochspannung–Lebensgefahr” (“High Voltage–Danger”). Two wooden barracks were at 30 or 40 meters distance. On the other side of the cottage were four pits 30 meters long, 7 meters wide and 3 meters deep. The edges of these pits were burned and blackened. We were lined up in front of the house; then [SS-Untercharführer] Moll arrived and told us we would work here at the burning old and lice-infected people, that we would be given something to eat and in the evening we would be taken back to the camp, and that we had to work. And if we did not, we would be beaten and for that purpose there were always clubs and dogs at hand. The SS who escorted us had indeed dogs. Then we were split in a number of groups. I was detailed with 11 others in a group which, as we learned later, was to remove the bodies from this cottage. We were all given masks, and were led through the door into the cottage. Moll opened the door, and only then could we see that the cottage was full of naked corpses of both sexes and all ages. Moll ordered us to remove these corpses from the cottage through the door to the yard. We started work with four men carrying one body. This annoyed Moll. He rolled up his sleeves, and threw a body through the door into the yard. When, despite this example, we said we were incapable of doing that, he detailed two of us to carry each body. Once the corpses were in the yard, a dental technician, assisted by an SS man, pulled out the teeth. A barber, also watched by an SS man, shaved off the hair; After that another group loaded the bodies onto a cart. This cart ran on a narrow-gauge track to the edge of the pits. Still another group prepared the pit for burning the corpses. First of all, big logs were put in the bottom, then smaller and smaller wood, in criss-cross fashion, and finally dry twigs. Another group took the bodies that had been brought by the cart and threw them into the pit. Once all the bodies had been brought from the cottage to the pit, Moll poured kerosene over them in the four corners of the pit and set fire to it by throwing a burning rubber comb over the kerosene-soaked areas. That is how the fire started and the corpses burned. While Moll started the fire, we were in front of the cottage and could see what he was doing. After having removed all the bodies from the cottage, we had to clean it thoroughly, wash the floor with water, spread it with sawdust, and whitewash the walls. The interior of the cottage was divided into four rooms by partition walls. One, in which one could house 1200 naked people, the second with a capacity of 700, the third of 400, and the fourth with a capacity of between 200 and 250. In the first room, the biggest, there were in the wall two little windows. The three smaller rooms each had one small window. These windows were closed by the wooden doors. Each room had a separate access. On the entrance door there was a metal sign with the inscription “Hochspannung–Lebensgefahr,” as I mentioned earlier. When the door was opened, this sign was invisible but on could see another “Zum Baden” (“To the Baths”). The people who were in these rooms saw on the exit door another sign with the inscription (“Zur Desinfektion”)(“To Disinfection”). Behind this door there was obviously no disinfection, because through these doors we removed the bodies into the yard. Each room had its own entrance door.688

    Dragon continued to explain how this cottage was known as Bunker II, and that there was also another cottage, Bunker I, which contained only two chambers and which could hold less than 2,000 people. He explained that he and his fellow workers were mainly involved with the removal and burning of the corpses, and that only occasionally was he present at the actual, mostly nightly gassings, which was mainly run by the SS men themselves. His role at those occasions was to help undress ill people. At those times he witnessed how, after all had been driven into the cottage, the doors were closed, and how SS-Rottenführer Steinmetz collected a tin of Zyklon B from a red cross van, donned a gas mask, opened it, threw it through one of the windows, closed the window, and carried the tin back to the van.689

    Dragon also gave a graphic account of the situation inside Bunker II the next morning.

    In general we found, when we opened the rooms, the bodies of the gassed in lying positions. When there were many, they were on top of one another, often in standing positions, with their upper bodies bent down. In many cases I saw on the lips of the gassed a white foam. In the rooms it was after they were opened very hot and one could sense the gas. It caused an itching feeling at the throat. On one’s lips one senses a sweetish, pleasant taste.690

    Dragon recorded that Bunker I was demolished in 1943, and that in the same year the barracks situated next to Bunker II were also dismantled, and that at that time the cremation pits were filled with earth. Bunker II remained, however, standing to be used once more during the Hungarian Action of 1944.

    If Faurisson missed Dragon’s account, he certainly should have been able to consult that of Pery Broad, as it had been published by the time he began his investigation. A non-commissioned officer in the Auschwitz Political Department, the 34-year old SS-Unterscharführer Pery Broad was captured by the British near Ravensbrück on 6 May, 1945. In the prisoner-of-war camp he worked as a translator, and wrote voluntarily a report on his activities in Auschwitz. The Broad report corroborated Dragon’s account of the Birkenau extermination installations, those “innocuous looking farmhouses, the ‘bunkers’ as those gas chambers were generally called.”691

    At some distance from the Birkenau camp, which was growing at an incredible rate, there stood, amidst pleasant scenery, two pretty and tidy-looking farmhouses, separated from one another by a grove. They were dazzlingly whitewashed, cosily thatched and surrounded with fruit trees of the kind that usually grew there. Such was the first hasty impression! Nobody would have thought it c