David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt/VII
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Description of the camp and overview of the principal issueEdit
7.1 Auschwitz is a small town in the region of Upper Silesia in Poland, which was annexed by the Third Reich when Poland fell in 1940. Hitler entrusted Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler with the task of “Germanising” the annexed territories. His original plan to repopulate with Germans places such as Auschwitz, deporting Poles and Jews to the eastern sector of the General Government to make way for the Germans, proved not to be feasible. So the decision was taken to set up a concentration camp in a suburb of the town.
7.2 The Auschwitz camp area was located in a fork between the River Vistula in the west and the River Sola in the east. Part of the camp area also extended across the River Sola on its eastern bank. Surrounding the camp was an agricultural area which was originally designated to be worked by ethnic German farmers. Within the fork between the two rivers was a zone which extended to some fifteen square miles. All civilians had been deported from this area which was now controlled by the SS. This zone and its surrounding area served many purposes and forms of activity, including an experimental farm, a forced labour pool for the chemical company plant which IG Farben was planning to construct nearby at Monowitz and other industrial concerns. The town of Auschwitz was outside the concentration camp area. It is located on the eastern side of the River Sola. To the east of the town was the IG Farben Buna Factory beside which was the labour camp. The whole area and system of camps is collectively referred to as ‘Auschwitz’.
7.3 Within the overall camp was a smaller security area which was surrounded by guard posts. This area contained the two main camps that formed part of Auschwitz. To the eastern side of the River Vistula there was Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II). This was the principal camp where most of the extermination occurred. Approximately two kilometres to the east of Birkenau, separated from it by a railway corridor, was the smaller camp known variously as Auschwitz, Auschwitz I or the Stammlager. The headquarters of the camp were situated here. Located at a point along the railway line between Auschwitz and Birkenau was the ramp at which trains transporting Jews would halted. Later a spur was built, linking Birkenau to the railway and providing a further terminus.
7.4 Auschwitz fell within the jurisdiction of Himmler, who was in overall charge of the establishment and running of concentration camps. Heydrich, Chief of the Security Police and the SD and Head of the RSHA, reported directly to Himmler. Eichmann, who worked within the RSHA, also reported to Himmler, was entrusted in 1941 with responsibility for the carrying out and co-ordinating of the Final Solution. SS Obergruppenfuhrer Oswald Pohl was Head of the Economic and Administrative Office of the SS which had executive responsibility for the running of the labour camps. SS Hauptsturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Hoss was installed as Camp Commandant of Auschwitz in May 1941 and continued in a leading capacity throughout the period when, on the Defendants’ case most of the gassings took place (with the exception of a period in 1943-4 when he was posted to Berlin to work in the Concentration Camp Inspectorate). The camp was manned by the SS. But the assistance of Jewish inmates was enlisted to perform some of the more grisly tasks in the crematoria. They were called Sonderkommando. About 200 worked in each cremaorium. They were housed either in the crematoria where they worked or in special barracks. At periodic intervals, many of the Sonderkommando were themselves gassed and replaced by other inmates.
7.5 It is common ground that from the autumn of 1941 large numbers of Jews were deported to Auschwitz from Germany and from the eleven other countries which had been occupied or formed part of Nazi controlled Europe. The overall question which I have to decide is whether the available evidence, considered in its totality, would convince any objective and reasonable historian that Auschwitz was not merely one of the many concentration or labour camps established by the Nazi regime but that it also served as a death or extermination camp, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were systematically put to death in gas chambers over the period from late 1941 until 1944.
The case for the Defendants in summaryEdit
7.6 Auschwitz was not, on the Defendants’ case, either the first or by any means the only extermination camp where gas chambers were employed to kill Jews. However, according to the Defendants, the evidence establishes that more more deaths occurred at Auschwitz than in all the other extermination camps put together. The case advanced by the Defendants can by simply summarised: they contend that there is a substantial body of evidence, from a variety of different sources, which should demonstrate to any fair-minded objective commentator that gas chambers were constructed at Auschwitz and that they were used to extermination Jews on a massive scale. This case rests upon what the Defendants contend is abundant evidence, both contemporaneous and more recent, which amounts to convincing proof that Auschwitz played a pivotal role in the Nazi scheme to exterminate European Jewry. It is the Defendants’ case that in the period from late 1941 to 1944, when the gas chambers were dismantled, approximately one million Jews were murdered by the use of gas at the camp.
7.7 The Defendants allege that, if Irving had approached the evidence in a detached and objective manner, he could not have failed to appreciate that the evidence is overwhelming that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were systematically used to kill Jews. In arriving at an answer to this question, the Defendants submit that it is relevant to bear in mind the concessions that Irving has already made as to the fact, scale and systematic nature of, firstly, the killing of the Jews in the East by shooting and, secondly, the gassing of Jews from Poland and from Europe in the Reinhard death camps. The Defendants maintain that Irving’s denial of the genocidal use of the gas chambers, often expressed in the most intemperate language, flies in the face of the evidence and is explicable only on the basis that Irving is driven by his own extremist ideological views. Moreover the Defendants point out that Irving’s denial appears to have been prompted, almost overnight, by his reading the Leuchter report, which, say the Defendants, is deeply flawed from both a scientific and an historical point of view.
Irving’s case in summaryEdit
7.8 As it was originally formulated, the case advanced by Irving was that no convincing evidence exists that gas chambers were at the material time in existence at Auschwitz and that there is no evidence that such chambers were commissioned. Further, said Irving, there is no convincing evidence that any Jew at Auschwitz lost his or her life as a result of being gassed (though he conceded from the outset that many died as a result of the epidemics which, due to the appalling lack of hygiene, regularly swept the camp).
7.9 The reason why Irving originally adopted that stance was that he was enormously impressed by a report compiled in 1988 by a Mr Fred Leuchter, described by Irving as a professional consultant who routinely advised penitentiaries on electric chair and gas-chamber execution procedures. His report entitled “An Engineering Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek Poland” concluded that no gas chambers operated at Auschwitz. Irving regarded that report as an important historical document and he adopted its major conclusions. He contended that subsequent tests had replicated the results obtained by Leuchter.
7.10 At this trial Irving appeared to place less reliance on the Leuchter report than he had done in his written statement of case. He advanced a variety of arguments for discrediting the evidence relied on by the Defendants. He relied heavily on the argument that the roof of morgue 1 at crematorium 2 (which is where on the Defendants’ case in excess of 500,000 Jews were gassed to death) shows no sign of the wire-mesh columns through which the Defendants maintain that the gas was introduced into the chamber below.
7.11 In the course of the trial Irving modified his position: he was prepared to concede that gassing of human beings had taken place at Auschwitz but on a limited scale. However, he continued to assert that it was not a death factory (totesfabrik). He maintained that there is certainly no question of 500,000 Jews having perished in morgue 1 of crematorium 2 as the Defendants contend.
7.12 In support of his modified denial that Jews were put to death in the gas chambers on any significant scale, Irving relied on the fact that in all the surviving contemporaneous archival and other documentary records of the Third Reich, there is no reference to the commissioning, construction or operation of the gas chambers. He emphasised that amongst the voluminous documentary material relating to Auschwitz, there is only one document which contains what might be regarded as a reference to the genocidal use of the crematoria. Irving argues that the lack of (as he put it) incriminating documents is extraordinary, if indeed gas chambers were in operation on the scale alleged by the Defendants.
7.13 Amongst the arguments advanced by Irving in support of his case that killing by gas took place at the camp on no more than a limited scale was the fact that the top-secret daily reports sent from the camp to Berlin in cypher, which purport to record the numbers of inmates, arrivals and ‘departures by any means’, including deaths, make no mention of any inmate having been gassed, although they contain many references to deaths from illness, by shootings and hangings. The number of deaths recorded in these reports is far smaller than the number of those who, on the Defendants’ case, lost their lives in the gas chambers. Moreover, asked Irving, if so many were led to their deaths in the gas chambers, what has become of the cadavers. Why, Irving continued, should Eichmann, whose diaries were remarkably frank in regard to the killing of Jews, omit to mention gas chambers when recording his visit to Auschwitz in early 1942.
7.14 According to Irving the evidence simply fails to establish that Jews were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz on anything approaching the scale claimed by the Defendants.
The evidence relied on by the Defendants as demonstrating that gas chambers were constructed at Auschwitz and operated there to kill a vast number of JewsEdit
7.15 It is therefore necessary to consider with care what is the nature of the evidence relied on by the Defendants. It is contained principally in the expert report prepared by van Pelt. Longerich and Evans also deal in their reports with certain aspects of this topic. The evidence comes, as I have said, from a variety of sources. Since it is the case for the Defendants that it is the totality of that evidence which amounts to convincing proof of the mass extermination of Jews by gas, it is necessary for me to attempt to summarise it by category.
7.16 As early as November 1941 reports had begun to emerge of a violent camp at Oswiecim (that is, Auschwitz) and another camp nearby where poison gas was being used on an experimental basis. But for the most part the early reports mentioned Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor rather than Auschwitz. However, in March 1943 a radio message to London from Polish resistance sources reported the gassing of more than 500,000 at Oswiecim. There were other reports in the course of 1944 to similar effect. But none of them attracted much attention at the time. Other reports mentioned Birkenau but its connection with Auschwitz does not appear to have been appreciated. Cypher reports from Auschwitz (and other camps) to Berlin were being intercepted by British intelligence at Bletchley but (as will be seen) these made no mention of deaths by gassing.
7.17 In mid-1944 two young Slovak Jews, named Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzlar, who had escaped from Auschwitz, gave accounts of the systematic extermination of Jews at Birkenau (ie Auschwitz II), commencing in the summer of 1942 and involving the use of specially-constructed gas chambers and crematoria. This account was circulated to London and Washington. Another corroborative account, from a Polish gentile, Jerzy Tabeau, who had also escaped from the camp, also appeared. In June and July 1944 there was publicity in the New York Times about the mass killing of Jews by gassing at Auschwitz.
Evidence gathered by the investigation under the aegis of the Soviet State Extraordinary CommissionEdit
7.18 The early reports referred to above tallied with the findings of a joint Polish-Soviet commission set up to investigate events at Majdanek, another extermination camp at Lublin in the General Government which had fallen into Russian hands in July 1944. Auschwitz itself was liberated on 27th January 1945 by the advancing Russian army. The Russians found a total of 7,500 inmates. Some 60,000 inmates had been forced to march west a week earlier. Large quantities of shoes, suits, clothes, toothbrushes, glasses, false teeth, hair and other personal effects were found in storage barracks.
7.19 A Soviet State Extraordinary Commission was set up to investigate what had occurred at the camp. On 6 May 1945 it issued its findings. It concluded, on the basis of evidence from inmates, Nazi documents found at the camp and an inspection of the remains of the crematoria, that more than four million people had been annihilated at the camp. The Commission concluded that gas chambers had been used to kill people at the camp and their remains had been incinerated in crematoria. The Commission also reported that the zinc covers used in connection with the ventilation system had been tested in a forensic laboratory. Hydrocyanide was found to be present.
7.20 Although the archive of the camp Kommandantur had been destroyed by the Nazis, the archive of the Central Construction Office survived, apparently by an oversight, and was recovered by the Russians. Basing himself on the blueprints for the construction and adaptation of the crematoria and morgues and on visits made to the site, a Polish specialist in combustion technology named Davidowski compiled a report on the technology of mass extermination employed at Auschwitz. He noted that terms such as Spezialeinrichtungen (special installations) were used in the documents to describe the crematoria and that there was a reference to a Vergasungskeller (gassing cellar).
7.21 In his evidence van Pelt did, however, concede that the evidential value of the Russian report is limited.
Evidence gathered by the Polish Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland 1945-7Edit
7.22 In 1945 the forensic laboratory in Cracow carried out an analysis of, firstly, zinc covers removed from the alleged gas chambers at Birkenau and, secondly, 25.5kg of human hair recovered from the camp. Both were found to contain traces of cyanide. The Defendants point to this as further evidence of the use of the chambers to kill Jews.
The Olere drawingsEdit
7.23 David Olere was a painter, who was born in Warsaw and later moved to Paris, where he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz in March 1943. He worked in the Sonderkommando for Crematorium 3. He lived in the attic of Crematorium 3 and observed the building and related activity. After his liberation he returned to Paris where he began to draw and record his memories. He produced over fifty sketches in 1945-46.
7.24 Among the sketches Olere produced were architectural drawings of Crematorium 3 which show the basement level with the underground dressing room and the gas chamber, and the ground floor with the incineration room the ovens and the chimney. Arrows indicate the functional relationship of the rooms. They show how people were directed to the gas chamber; how bodies were moved to the corpse elevator; how they were taken to the incineration room and how coke was brought to the ovens in the incineration room.
7.25 In his drawings of Crematorium 3 and its environs Olere depicted people filing into the compound from the road and moving into the dressing room. A sketch from 1946 shows the dressing room, the benches and the hooks for clothes. Another sketch shows the Sonderkommandos collecting gold teeth and hair from the women. One of the wire mesh columns is visible in the background. Van Pelt commented that the information in these drawings is corroborated by the testimony of Tauber (see below). He also pointed out that none of the drawings could have been made on the basis of published material as there was not any available at the time.
7.26 Other sketches by Olere show Bunker 2, which was a peasant cottage converted into a gas chamber. Van Pelt noted that the undressing barrack is correctly positioned vis-à-vis the cottage. He pointed out the small window with the heavy wooden shutter through which Zyklon-B was introduced. Another sketch portrays the murder of women and children with Crematorium 5 in the background. Van Pelt claimed the representation of the crematorium to be architecturally correct save for minor inaccuracies which can be ascribed to the fact it was drawn from memory.
7.27 Van Pelt noted that Olere’s sketches are corroborated by plans that the Russians found in the Central Construction Office, save that Olere depicts vertical wire mesh columns in the gas chamber (through which the Defendants allege that Zyklon-B was inserted) which are not to be found in the original architectural plans for the site. Olere’s arrangement has the mesh columns attached to the west side of the first and fifth structural columns and on the east side of the third and seventh structural columns in the gas chamber.
Eye-witness evidence from camp officials and employeesEdit
7.28 In his report van Pelt identified a number of those employed at Auschwitz in various capacities who have given accounts of the use of gas at the camp.
7.29 The principal of these Rudolf Hoss, the Auschwitz Kommandant, was captured by the British on 11th March 1946. In the course of his interrogation at Nuremberg Hoss produced a detailed list of the numbers of people transported to Auschwitz from various countries in Europe. The list totalled well over one million. When asked how so large a number could be accommodated at the camp, given that Hoss had said that there were facilities for only 130,000 at the camp, Hoss answered that most of those transported to the camp were taken there to be exterminated. Hoss later swore an affidavit in which he admitted that he had overseen the extermination, by gassing and burning, of at least two and a half million people. He stated that Zyklon-B was dropped into the death chamber through a small opening. It took from 3 to 15 minutes to kill those in the chamber. After half an hour the bodies were removed. Sonderkommandos or Special commandos removed their rings and extracted the gold from their teeth. Hoss described the process by which those to be gassed were selected. He stated that attempts were made to deceive the victims that they were going to be deloused. He said that the gas chambers were capable of accommodating 2,000 people at one time. Dr Gustav Gilbert, the Nuremberg prison psychologist, recorded in his diary an account of a conversation with Hoss in which he confirmed that two and a half million people had been exterminated under his direction.
7.30 Dr Johann Paul Kremer worked as a physician at Auschwitz from August to November 1942. He kept a diary in which he recorded evidence of activities of what had taken place at Auschwitz. He recorded being present at a “special action” by comparison with which “Dante’s inferno seems almost a comedy”. The diary contains an entry that Auschwitz is justly called an extermination camp. Prior to his trial before the Supreme National Tribunal in Cracow in November and December 1947 Kremer was interrogated. He admitted that he had taken part in gassing people on several occasions in September and October 1942. He too described the selection process, after which the selected victims were required to undress before being lead into the gas chamber. He described how an SS man threw the contents of a Zyklon tin through a side opening. He mentioned an occasion when about 1,600 Dutch people were gassed.
7.31 Pery Broad was an officer in the Auschwitz Political Department. He voluntarily wrote a report of his activities whilst working for the British as a translator in a prisoner-of-war camp after the war. Broad’s report corroborates Dragon’s account of the extermination installations and of the burning of the corpses. He described how the area surrounding the crematorium was kept closed. The Jews arrived in columns. They were told they were going to be disinfected. After they entered the chamber, the door was bolted. The contents of tins of Zyklon-B were thrown into the chamber through six holes in the roof. The screaming of the victims quickly ceased and was followed by complete silence. Broad gave evidence of how bodies were removed and burnt after they had been gassed. In addition Broad reported that the reason for building the four new crematoria in Birkenau was that the Nazis were finding it difficult to keep the killings at Bunkers 1 and 2 a secret. In the two underground gas chambers 4,000 people could be killed at a time. He described the layout of the new installation, including the ovens, each of which he said was equipped to hold four or five corpses.
7.32 SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain) Hans Aumeier became the Lagerfuhrer (Camp Leader) of Auschwitz in 1942 and was responsible for the inmate compound of the concentration camp. He remained in that job until the end of the year and so, according to van Pelt, was present during the transformation of Auschwitz into an extermination camp. Arrested shortly after the end of the war, he claimed that during his time at the camp 3,000-3,500 prisoners died there. Initially he denied the existence of gas chambers. But later, in the summer of 1945, he admitted that gas chambers had been in operation in Auschwitz and that on many occasions they had been used for killing Jews. He stated that everyone was sworn to secrecy. (In a later statement he added that there was a Reichsfuhrer-SS order which banned written reports, counts and statistics of the activities). He described the initial gas chambers in Bunkers 1 and 2 at Birkenau, where, he said, each chamber accommodated 50-150 people. He gave a further account of the construction of crematorium 2 and crematorium 3 and their gas chambers which had a much larger capacity and began operating in April and May 1943 respectively.
7.33 Dr Ada Bimko, a Polish-Jewish physician, arrived at Auschwitz in August 1943 with 5,000 other Jews. According to her account, of these 4,500, including her close relatives, were sent straight to the crematoria. She later described to a British Military Tribunal the methods of selecting those who were to be gassed. She said that she had worked as a doctor in the hospital at the camp. She gave evidence that she was present at several selections of those who were to be exterminated. She stated that the condemned women were ordered to undress. She had not witnessed the victims enter the buildings. But she stated that she had seen one of the gas chambers when she was sent to recover hospital blankets used by those about to be killed. She described in some detail the chamber which had rows of sprays all over the ceiling but no drains.
Eye-witness evidence from inmates at AuschwitzEdit
7.34 Over the years a large number of Jews who were, or at least claimed that they were, imprisoned at Auschwitz have given accounts of their experiences. The quality of their evidence is variable. Van Pelt explained that he placed greater reliance on those eye-witnesses who provided their accounts of what transpired at Auschwitz shortly after the war ended. Later accounts were vulnerable to the charge that the witness had become confused by the passage of time or had been influenced by what others had claimed. The witnesses upon whose accounts van Pelt was inclined to place reliance included the following.
7.35 Vrba, as already stated above escaped from Auschwitz and was one of the first to provide an account of the mass killing at the camp. On that account he is regarded by van Pelt as a significant witness. Vrba did not himself enter any of the gas chambers; he passed on what others had told him. But, as administrator of the sick barrack, he knew about the selection process. He described how those selected were loaded onto trucks and claimed that they were taken away to be gassed. He gave an account of the inauguration at Birkenau at the end of February 1943 of a new crematorium and gassing plant. He stated that there were four crematoria in operation. He described in some detail (albeit, as van Pelt accepted, at second hand) the layout of the interior.
7.36 Sonderkommando Salmen Gradowski kept a diary of his experiences at the camp which he buried in an aluminium can. Schlomo Dragon remembered where it was buried. Remarkably the can and its contents were found intact and dug up after the liberation of the camp. The can contained a notebook and a letter dated 6th September 1944. In the letter Gradowski explained that it was his aim to preserve a written account of what had happened at Auschwitz. He wrote that this task became even more important once the Nazis started to burn the bodies of those they had killed and to dispose of the ashes in the River Vistula. He said that he and fellow Sonderkommandos had scattered the teeth of the dead over a wide area so that they might be found by subsequent generations. Gradowski claimed that the Jewish nation had been destroyed in the camps. He recorded that he and fellow camp workers had planned a mutiny. (The uprising took place in October 1944. It failed and Gradowski was tortured and killed). In his notebook Gradowski described his journey by train to the camp and the selection process on arrival. He gave an account of the living conditions for those deemed fit for work. That notebook did not contain descriptions of the work of the Sonderkommandos.
7.37 On 10 April 1945 Radio Luxembourg broadcast the account of an unnamed survivor of Auschwitz, who had subsequently been evacuated to Buchenwald. In the interview this witness stated that Auschwitz was an extermination camp which killed between 12,000 and 20,000 people a day. He described how the transports arrived, how the selection took place, and how those who were chosen to die were killed instantly and cremated.
7.38 Stanislaw Jankowksi gave evidence to the Polish Central Commission in 1946. He was the first Sonderkommando to testify before the Commission. He said that he worked in Crematorium 1 from November 1942 at which time it was only used sporadically for killing people. He described an occasion in November or December 1942 when a large number of inmates from Birkenau arrived under escort. He and the other Sonderkommandos were ordered to leave. When they returned they found only clothing. He was put to work carrying the corpses to the crematorium for burning. In July 1943 Jankowski was transferred to Birkenau and worked at Crematorium 5. He described how large number of Jews of various nationalities arrived at the camp. About half of them were selected for gassing, including the old and infirm and the pregnant and children. He stated that those who were to be gassed were not given camp numbers or registered at the camp. His evidence was that the killing reached its zenith with the Hungarian Jews in about July 1944 when, he claimed, 18,000 were being killed per day. Jankowski reckoned that Crematoria 2 and 3 had a daily incineration capacity of 2,500 corpses while Crematoria 4 and 5 could incinerate 1,500.
7.39 Schlomo Dragon, another Sonderkommando, gave evidence on 10 May 1945 to the Polish Central Commission. Dragon had worked at bunker 2 and crematoria 4 and 5. Van Pelt commented that, while Dragon was precise when he talked about what he has witnessed in person, he was less accurate when it came to estimating the number of people killed in Auschwitz, which he put at four million.
7.40 Sonderkommando Henry Tauber worked initially in crematorium 1 and later at crematoria 2 and 4. He also gave evidence to the Polish Central Commission. He gave a detailed account of the undressing rooms at the gas chamber, the signs which hung on the walls, the glass peep-hole in the door and how the doors were hermetically sealed. Further, he described the ventilation systems; how the floor of a gas chamber was to be washed and how the chamber in crematorium 2 was split into two in late 1943 by a dividing wall. He gave an exceedingly detailed account of the operation of crematoria, making it clear what he accepted on the basis of his own observations and what he accepted as hearsay. He described dragging gassed corpses from the gas chamber and loading them five at a time onto trucks which ran on rails to the furnaces where they were off-loaded. He described the three, two-muffle furnaces and said that each muffle would take five corpses. The incineration took up to one and a half hours. He explained that thin people burned more slowly than fat people. In summary his description of crematoria 2, both below and above ground corresponded very closely with the outline given in the blueprints. Van Pelt considered that Tauber’s testimony is almost wholly corroborated by the German blueprints of the buildings and that it corroborates the accounts given by Jankowski and Dragon. Tauber estimated that the number of people who were gassed during his time at Auschwitz, between February 1943 and October 1944, was two million people from which figure he extrapolated that the total number gassed at Auschwitz amounted to four million.
7.41 Michael Kula was another former inmate of the camp who gave evidence to the Polish Commission. He had lived near Auschwitz before his incarceration. Kula gave evidence that, a year after his arrival at the camp in 1940, he observed the Nazis beginning to experiment with Zyklon B. He observed that the corpses turned greenish after exposure to the gas. Kula worked in the metal workshop at the camp and forged many of the metal pieces required for the crematoria. He also took part in the construction of trucks for conveying corpses into the ovens. Kula testified that four wire mesh columns were made for the gas chambers in crematoria 2 and 3: these columns were described by Kula as “structures of ever finer mesh”, which contained a removable can within the innermost column which was used to extract, after the gassing, the Zyklon “crystals” or pellets that had absorbed the hydrocyanide.
7.42 Marie Claude Vaillant-Couturier (to whom I have referred at section V(xviii) above in connection with the Defendants’ criticisms of Irving’s historiography) gave evidence to the International Military Tribunal of the conditions in the women’s camp at Birkenau, including the sterilisation of women and the killing of babies of women who had arrived pregnant. She claimed that most of the Jewish women who had come from the same part of France as herself had been gassed immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz. Valliant-Couturier testified that the trains stopped close to the gas chamber; that the vast majority of the arriving Jews, including the old, mothers and children) would be selected for gassing; that they were made to undress and then taken to a room like a shower room into which gas capsules were thrown through an opening in the ceiling.
7.43 Severina Shmaglevskaya, a Polish inmate at Auschwitz, gave evidence she had seen many children brought to the camp. She had seen selections undertaken on some occasions by doctors and on others by SS men. She recalled that children were separated from their parents and taken off separately to the gas chambers. She stated that, at the time when the greatest number of Jews were being exterminated in the gas chambers, children were thrown alive into crematory ovens or ditches. She said that few of the children were registered, tattooed or counted. They were exterminated on arrival. As a consequence it was very difficult to know how many of the children were put to death.
7.44 Filip Muller, a Sonderkommando, gave an account in the 1970s of the process used to insert corpses into the ovens at crematorium 1. He described how trucks were used to transport the bodies to the ovens, how corpses were put into the ovens and the technical details involved in problems that arose during the process. Van Pelt pointed out that Muller’s account accords with those of Jankowski, Tauber and Dragon. He considered that it is highly unlikely that Muller’s memoirs were inspired by Tauber’s testimony.
7.45 Janda Weiss, aged only fifteen years, was interviewed in 1945 by representatives of the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces. She told them that she had been deported to Birkenau along with 1,500 Jews from Theresienstadt. She described how she was among the stronger ones who were selected to work in the camp. The rest of her family were taken off to be gassed. Weiss recalled her conversations with those who worked in the camps. She knew of the arrival of the Hungarian transports in 1944. She claimed that when transports arrived most of the Jews were selected to be gassed immediately. Having been told they were to have a shower, the victims undressed and went into the gas chamber. She recalled that when the room was full, small children were thrown into the chamber through the window. After the gassing Sonderkommandos pulled the corpses out took their rings off, cut off their hair, and took them to the ovens to cremate them.
7.46 Walter Bliss, a German Jew, was also interviewed. He too described the selection process which took place not only on arrival at the camp but also at regular intervals thereafter. He gave an account of a typical selection process: those selected for death were transferred to gassing barracks where might be kept for up to two or three days often without food as they were going to die anyway. He claimed that 40% of the men in the camp and 60-70% of the women were murdered in January 1944.
Evidence from the Nuremberg trialEdit
7.47 By an accord signed on the 8th August 1945 the Allies established the International Military Tribunal (at Nuremberg) to prosecute war criminals. Twenty two leaders of the Third Reich were charged. One of them was Kaltenbrunner, who was chief of the agency charged with carrying out the Final Solution. Others who gave evidence at Nuremberg have already been referred above, including Vaillant-Couturier, Shmaglevskaya and Hoss. The Defendants rely in addition on the evidence of the following.
7.48 In January 1946 Dieter Wisliceny, who had been an aide to Eichmann, gave evidence in which he accepted his involvement in preparations for the transport to Auschwitz of some 50,000 Saloniki Jews who, he agreed, were destined for the ‘so-called final solution’. He also gave evidence that he had been involved in the deportation of 450,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. In respect of the latter Wisliceny stated that they were all killed with the exception of those used for labour purposes.
7.49 SS-Standartenfuhrer Kurt Becher swore an affidavit which was submitted in March 1946 at Nuremberg. He described how people were exterminated by methods including gas at Majdanek. He deposed that, within days of an English newspaper report being received at Hitler’s headquarters about gas chambers being used at Majdanek, Himmler ordered the cessation of gassing in Auschwitz and the dismantling of the extermination installations in the crematoria.
Evidence from the Eichmann trialEdit
7.50 One of the witnesses at the trial of Eichmann was Hoss, to whom I have already made reference.
7.51 Another was Yehuda Bakon, an Israeli artist, who at Auschwitz had been employed to take papers to the crematoria for burning. Consequently he had entered the crematoria and had seen the gas chamber. In the summer of 1945 he drew illustrations of Auschwitz which he produced in the course of his evidence. The drawings depicted the inside of gas chambers, including the dummy shower heads and the mesh columns used to insert the Zyklon-B into the gas chamber. He also described how the gas chambers were ventilated after the gassings. Bakon’s evidence included a description of how the corpses were put on to a lift which raised them up to the incinerators. Van Pelt relied on the evidence of Bakon that, when it was cold the head of the Sonderkommando would let them warm up in the gas chambers and undressing rooms when they were not in use. He argues that this evidence refute Leuchter’s contention that the temperature in the gas chambers was so low that there would have been condensed liquid hydrogen cyanide on the walls had it been used.
Evidence from other trials (Kremer; Mulka and others; Dejaco and Ertl)Edit
7.52 Josef Kramer was a defendant in Belsen trial of the SS personnel who operated Bergen-Belsen. He had also served as Lagerfuhrer of Birkenau during the time that Hungarians were being transported to Auschwitz. Like many camp personnel on trial Kramer had worked at Auschwitz before being transferred to Belsen. At the trial he admitted to his involvement in the operation and use of gas chambers at Auschwitz. He stated that Hoss was in charge of the gas chambers and that he received his orders from Berlin. Mrs Rosina Kramer also testified on behalf of her husband. She states that everyone in Auschwitz knew about the gas chambers.
7.53 At Kramer’s trial Bimko, the Polish-Jewish physician, gave the evidence to which I have already alluded.
7.54 Dr Charles Bendel, a Rumanian Jewish physician who had been living in Paris before he was deported to Auschwitz, gave evidence that he had been detailed to work as a sonderkommando and in that capacity observed the gas chambers and crematoria in action. He testified that on occasion the Nazis would burn corpses in pits because the ovens could not cope with the number of people who had been killed.
7.55 Defendants at the Belsen trial inlcluded Dr Fritz Klein, an ethnic German from Rumania, who was a member of the SS. As a physician he admitted having taken part in many of the selections of those who were to be gassed. He claimed that he was acting on orders which were always given verbally. Another defendant at the Belsen trial was Franz Hoessler, who had been Lagerfuhrer at Auschwitz. In his evidence he admitted that gas chambers operated there. He stated that the selection of prisoners who were to be killed was undertaken by the doctors in the camp. He testified that the camp was inspected once a year by Himmler, who had given the order for people to be gassed.
7.56 Mulka, a member of Hess’s staff, and others stood trial at Frankfurt in 1963-5. Hans Stark, a former SS officer, gave evidence that he had been employed in the Auschwitz Political Department. He described the role of the Department in relation to executions by gassing. He admitted to participation in gassings including on occasion pouring the Zyklon B in himself.
7.57 Walther Dejaco and Fritz Ertl were architects at Auschwitz. They were tried in Vienna in 1972. Ertl gave evidence that he had been employed at the Auschwitz Central Construction Office until 1943. He testified that new crematoria had been needed for “special actions”. He confirmed that he knew the significance of that term. He said he had been told by Bischoff that no reference should be made to gassing.
Documentary evidence relating to the design and construction of the chambersEdit
7.58 The Defendants assert that there exist contemporaneous documentary records which, on detailed examination, evidence the construction of gas chambers at Auschwitz. The most important Auschwitz archive that survived the war was that of the Central Construction Office at Auschwitz. The main archives of the camp Kommandantur had been destroyed by the Germans before they evacuated the camp in January 1945. The Construction Office was 300 yards away and through an oversight was left intact.
7.59 The first and most significant body of such evidence is the blue print material, which consists of a series of architectural drawings which depict the adaptation of crematoria 2 and 3 and the construction of crematoria 4 and 5. None of these drawings refers overtly to any part of the buildings being designed or intended to serve as gas chambers whether for fumigation or extermination purposes. In particular the drawings for Leichenkeller (morgue) 1 in crematorium 2 make no provision for ducts or chimneys by means of which Zyklon-B pellets might be inserted through the roof. However, van Pelt sought to illustrate by means of detailed analyses of certain features of the drawings that it reasonable to infer that certain chambers were designed to function as gas chambers.
7.60 The principal feature identified by van Pelt is the redesign of the double door to the supposed gas chamber in crematorium 2. When in 1942 the drawings were executed for the adaptation of this crematorium, this door in common with others in the same building was designed to open inwards. Careful scrutiny of the drawings reveals, however, that the drawing of the inward- opening door has been scratched out. A fresh drawing dated 19 December 1942 was made by Jakob, the chief of the drawing office, who rarely undertook drawings himself. It provides for the door to the supposed gas chamber to open outwards. There is no apparent reason for this. To van Pelt the obvious explanation is that the chamber was to be used as a gas chamber. If the door opened inwards, it would be impossible to open it after the administration of the gas because of the crush of corpses against the inside or the door of those who struggled to get out when they realised what was happening to them.
7.61 The next feature identified by van Pelt relates to the entrance to crematorium 2 and the means of which access was gained to the morgue below. In its original design, the entrance was situated to one side of the building. Inside the entrance there was a slide down which corpses would be tipped to reach the level of the morgue. But the drawing shows that this design was changed in late 1942 so as to move the entrance to the crematorium to the street side of the building. At the same time a new stairway to the morgue was designed to replace the pre-existing slide. Van Pelt pointed out that the original design apparently contemplated that only corpses would need to be transported down to the morgue. The new design on the other hand is consistent with a wish to enable people transported to Auschwitz to proceed from the railway station through the new entrance, then to walk downstairs into what is alleged to have been the undressing room and thence into the supposed gas chamber. The stairway has been redesigned in such a way that it would be extremely awkward to carry corpses down to the morgue on stretchers. Van Pelt concludes that the object of the redesign of the stairway was to enable living people to walk downstairs rather than for corpses to be carried down.
7.62 The drawings further provide for the ventilation of the supposed gas chamber in crematorium 2. Van Pelt infers that the purpose of the system for extracting air was to extract poisonous air and so speed up the removal of the corpses to the incinerators.
7.63 Crematoria 4 and 5 were new buildings. The initial drawings are dated August 1942, not long after the visit paid to the camp by Himmler, which the Defendants say marks the inception of the accelerated extermination programme. According to van Pelt the design of these crematoria incorporated undressing rooms (although not so designated on the drawings) and morgues which were to serve as gas chambers. The drawings of the morgues make provision for several windows measuring 30 x 40cms. The size of these windows corresponds with the size of windows referred to elsewhere in construction documents as being required to be gas proof. The windows were to be above eye level. Van Pelt draws the inference that the purpose of these windows was to enable Zyklon-B pellets to be inserted through them into the building (a process which was observed by Sonderkommando Dragon, as mentioned above).
7.64 Van Pelt agreed that the drawings for crematoria 4 and 5 show a drainage system which appears to link up with the camp sewage system. He disagreed with Irving’s suggestion that this would have been highly dangerous because large quantities of liquid cyanide would have found their way into the sewage system. Van Pelt claims that the gas would evaporate rather than turn into liquid.
7.65 In addition to the architectural drawings, there are other documents which, according to the Defendants, lend support to their contention that there were gas chambers at the camp which were used for genocidal purposes. I shall not itemise all the documents identified by the Defendants as belonging in this category. They include a patent application for multi-muffle ovens made by Topf. Although the patent application does not in fact relate to the ovens supplied to Auschwitz in 1942/3, it is said that the principle is the same. The two features of the application on which the Defendants focus are, firstly, the method of employing fat corpses to speed promote the rate at which corpses can be burned and, secondly, the claim that no fuel is required after the initial two day pre-heating period, no more fuel will be required because of the amount of heat generated by the burning corpses. Van Pelt noted that both these features are reflected in the account given by Tauber of the way in which the corpses were incinerated.
7.66 Another allegedly incriminating document is the record of a meeting held on 19 August 1942 between members of the Auschwitz construction office and a representative of the engineers Topf to discuss the construction of four crematoria. The note of the meeting refers to the construction of triple oven incinerators near the “Badenanstalten fur Sonderaktionen” (“bath-houses for special actions”: the words are in quotations in the original).
7.67 In a different category is a report dated 16 December 1942 made by a corporal named Kinna, which made reference to an order that, in order to releive the camp, limited people, idiots, cripples and sick people must be removed from the same by liquidation. Kinna stated that the implementation of this order was difficult because the Poles, unlike the Jews, must die a natural death.
7.68 The Defendants relies on a letter dated 29 January 1943 from Bischoff, Chief of Central Construction Managemnent at the camp, to SS Brigadefuhrer Kammler in which there is reference to a Vergasungskammer (gas chamber or cellar). There are also documents from February 1943 referring to the provision of gastight doors and windows. In a letter dated 31 March 1943 Bischoff presses for the delivery of a gastight door with a spyhole of 8mm glass, with a rubber seal and metal fitting. There is a timesheet of a construction worker which makes reference to fitting gastight windows to crematorium 4. Van Pelt pointed to a letter dated 6 March 1943 from Auschwitz to the Topf company which contemplated the use of hot air from the ventilators for the incinerators to pre-heat the Leichenkeller 1. Why, he asked, heat a morgue, which should be kept cool. Answering his own question, he claimed that Zyklon-B evaporates more quickly in high temperatures, so the killing process would be speeded up. (Irving answered that there is nothing sinister about heating the morgue: it was a requirement of good building practice in relation to civilian morgues).
7.69 Finally under this head the Defendants rely on a letter dated 28 June 1943 from Bischoff to Kammler (the authenticity of which Irving challenges) setting figures for the incineration capacity of the five crematoria, according to which their total capacity is 4756 people in every 24 hours. The Defendants’ case is that this capacity was at that time deemed to be necessary to burn the bodies of the Jews who were to be brought to Auschwitz to be gassed. Basing themselves on the evidence of sonderkommandos such as Tauber, the Defendants say further that the rate of incineration was broadly in line with the estimate in the letter of 28 June 1943. The Defendants suggest that the apparent urgency of the installation of the ovens, together with their huge capacity which, according to van Pelt, was far in excess of what could possibly have been required to cope with future typhus epidemics, reflects the policy adopted following Himmler’s visit to the camp in July 1942.
7.70 In support of his contention that there were chimneys through which it is alleged that Zyklon-B would have been poured into morgue 1 at crematorium 2, van Pelt relied on a photograph taken by a camp official in February 1942. According to van Pelt in this photograph, when greatly enlarged, it is possible to detect smudges which he maintained represent the chimneys protruding through the morgue roof. Furthermore van Pelt remarked on the similarity in the alignment of the supposed chimneys in the photograph with the alignment of the chimneys in one of Olere’s drawings. Van Pelt further relied on an aerial photograph which was taken in the summer of 1944 (to which I have referred earlier) on which, when greatly enlarged, spots are visible above the morgues of crematoria 2 and 3. He claims that these spots are the protruding chimneys, reduced in size because of the dirt laid onto the roof since the earlier photograph was taken. Irving gave reasons why he suspected that the 1944 photograph relied on by van Pelt had been tampered with.
7.71 Irving disputed van Pelt’s interpretation of the photographs and suggested that tampering may have taken place. He produced a photograph showing the roof of morgue 1 in the background on which there is no sign of any protruding chimney. Van Pelt responded that this photograph (in which the construction of the roof of the crematorium can be seen to be incomplete) was probably taken in December 1942 at which date the chimneys would not have been installed. Van Pelt explained that the reason why no protruding chimneys are visible in another photograph produced by Irving is that it was taken after the Nazis had dismantled the gas chambers.
7.72 The Defendants also place reliance on a photograph taken at a time when Hungarian Jews were arriving at the camp in 1944. One such photograph depicts a column of women and children walking from the railway spur towards Auschwitz. Instead of proceeding into the camp through the entrance leading to the women and children’s camp, the column can be seen to walking towards crematorium 2 (from which there is no access into the women and children’s section).
Material evidence found at Auschwitz
7.73 The Leuchter report, which I have mentioned already and to which I will return in greater detail when I come to summarise the evidence relied on by Irving in connection with Auschwitz, claimed that forensic analysis revealed no trace of in the surviving ruins of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Prompted by the publicity given to the Leuchter report, the director of the Auschwitz museum enlisted the expert assistance of Professor Markiewicz, Director of the Forensic Institute of Cracow, who arranged in February 1990 for further samples to be taken from Auschwitz for analysis.
7.74 Markiewicz decided that the so-called Prussian blue test was unreliable because its formation depended on the acidity of the environment which was particularly low in the alleged gas chambers. Markiewicz and his team therefore adopted microdiffusion techniques to test for cyanide samples from the crematoria, from the delousing chambers and a control sample taken from elsewhere within Auschwitz. The latter was tested because claims had been made that the cyanide traces in the gas chambers were explained by the fact that a single fumigation of the whole camp had taken place during the typhus epidemic. The control sample tested negative, refuting those claims. As to the tests on the crematoria and the delousing chambers, the conclusion arrived at by Markiewicz was that cyanide compounds are still to be found in all the facilities (that is, in both the delousing chambers and in the various supposed gas chambers) that, according to the source data, were in contact with cyanide. The concentration of cyanide compounds in the various samples varies greatly, even in the case of different samples taken from the same chamber or building. This indicated that the conditions producing the cyanide compounds varied locally. According to van Pelt, the Markiewicz report demonstrated positively that Zyklon-B had been introduced into the supposed gas chambers, albeit that the test results varied greatly. Van Pelt considered that the results for crematoria 4 and 5 were unreliable because they had been demolished at the end of the war with the result that it is difficult to know which brick came from where.
Conclusions to be drawn from the evidence, according to the Defendants’ expertsEdit
7.75 The Defendants contend that the evidence, to any dispassionate mind, is overwhelming that the Nazis systematically murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews , mainly by the use of Zyklon-B pellets. The Defendants recognise that not all of the evidence which I have sought to summarise above is altogether reliable. This applies with particular force to the evidence of the eye-witnesses. It is also accepted by the Defendants that in certain respects the documentary evidence, including the photographic evidence, is capable of more than one interpretation. Nevertheless the Defendants argue that the different strands of evidence “converge”. For example the eye-witness evidence is corroborated by the drawings and vice-versa. There is a striking similarity in the accounts of the eye-witnesses. The similarities in their recollections vastly outweigh the discrepancies. In the main, say the Defendants, their testimony is reliable. The documentary is not overtly incriminating for the obvious reason that the Nazis wanted to keep the gas chambers secret. But it too lends support to there having been gas chambers in operation at the camp.
7.76 The overwhelming strength of the totality of the evidence may be the reason, suggest the Defendants, why in his cross-examination of van Pelt Irving chose to ignore most of it.
== Irving’s reasons for rejecting the evidence relied on by the Defendants as to the existence at Auschwitz of gas chambers for killing Jews ==
Irving as expert witness at the trial of ZundelEdit
7.77 In his evidence Irving reiterated on a number of occasions that he is primarily a literary historian and that, at least until the present proceedings were commenced , he did not regard himself as an expert on the Holocaust. Accordingly until April 1988 he believed what he had been told about the killing of Jews in Auschwitz and the other death camps. The 1977 edition of Hitler’s War contains several references to the gassing of Jews.
7.78 In April 1988 Irving went to Toronto in order to give expert evidence on behalf of Hans Zundel, a publisher, who was being prosecuted for infringing a Canadian law, since repealed, which made it a criminal offence to disseminate false information. Zundel had published a pamphlet entitled “Did Six Million Really Die?” which questioned fundamental aspects of the Holocaust. Irving agreed to assist Zundel in his defence by giving evidence as an historian as to Hitler’s role in the extermination of the Jews. He was not instructed to address the issue of gassing at Auschwitz or indeed at any other alleged death camp.
The impact of the Leuchter ReportEdit
7.79 Irving testified that on arrival in Toronto he was presented with a copy of a report compiled by Mr Fred Leuchter. It was what Irving read in Leuchter’s report which convinced him that there is no truth in the claim that Jews met their death in gas chambers at Auschwitz. Irving made clear in his evidence that it was the Leuchter report and in particular the result of the chemical analysis of the samples taken from the fabric of the alleged gas chambers which had a profound impact on his thinking.
7.80 Leuchter had been retained by Zundel because he was a consultant retained by several penitentiaries to give advice about execution procedures including execution by means of the administration of gas. He had no formal professional qualifications. Zundel intended to use Leuchter’s report to establish that no Jews, and certainly not six million Jews, died in gas chambers, so that he could not be said to have been spreading false information about the Holocaust. (As it turned out Leuchter did not give evidence at Zundel’s trial).
7.81 In order to prepare his report, Leuchter visited Auschwitz in February 1988 to inspect the site. He removed 31 samples of brickwork and plaster from various crematoria and one control sample from a delousing chamber where cyanide was known to have been used and was visible in the form of blue staining. On his return to the US Leuchter had these samples analysed by a reputable laboratory in Massachussets. The object of the test was to discover whether the residual cyanide content of the samples was consistent with their having been exposed to high levels of cyanide over a prolonged period of time.
7.82 Chemical analysis of the control sample revealed a very heavy concentration of cyanide content, namely 1050mg/kg. By contrast the analysis of the other samples, taken from the alleged gas chambers, resulted in either negative findings or findings of very low concentration levels ranging from 1mg/g to 9 mg/kg. From this Leuchter concluded:
“ [this] supports the evidence that these facilities were not execution gas chambers. The small quantities detected would indicate that some point these buildings were deloused with Zyklon-BV – as were all the buildings at these facilities. Additionally the areas of blue staining show a high iron content, indicating ferric-ferro-cyanide, no longer hydrogen cyanide. One would have expected higher cyanide detection in the samples taken from the alleged gas chambers (because of the greater amount of gas allegedly used there) than that found in the control sample. Since the contrary is true, one must conclude that these facilities were not execution gas chambers, when coupled with all other evidence gained on inspection".
7.83 Apart from that conclusion, upon which Irving has focussed his attention, Leuchter in his report had a number of other observations to make. He expressed the opinion that crematoria 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 have an extremely poor and dangerous design if they were to have served as execution gas chambers. There is no provision for gasketed doors, windows or vents; the structures are not coated with tar or other sealant to prevent leakage or absorption of gas. The adjacent crematories create the potential for an explosion. The exposed porous brick and mortar would accumulate any hydrogen cyanide and render the facilities dangerous to humans for several years.
7.84 Crematorium 1 is adjacent to the SS hospital and has floor drains connected to the main sewer of the camp, which, according to Leuchter, would have resulted in liquid cyanide being carried into every building at the facility. There were no exhaust systems to vent the gas after usage and no mechanism could be found for the Zyklon-B pellets to be introduced or evaporated.. If indeed the Zyklon B pellets were fed into the chamber through roof vents or windows, there were no means of ensuring the even distribution of the gas. The facilities are always damp and unheated, which conditions are unsuited to the use of Zyklon-B.
7.85 Leuchter considered the chambers to be too small physically to contain the number of occupants claimed. The doors open inwards, which would inhibit the removal of bodies. With the gas chambers fully packed with occupants, the hydrogen cyanide would not circulate within the room. If the gas did eventually fill the chamber, anyone feeding the pellets into the vents on the roof would die from exposure to the poisonous gas.
7.86 Of the crematoria Leuchter, having reviewed modern practices, calculated that their combined theoretical daily incineration capacity was 353.6 but that in practice the maximum number of corpses which could have been burned was 156. He thus arrived at the conclusion that over the period when the incinerators were being operated, the total number of cremations would have been 193,576 in theory but no more than 85,092 in practice.
7.87 Leuchter’s evaluation of the crematory facilities produced, according to his report, conclusive evidence that contradicts the alleged volume of corpses having been cremated within the generally alleged time frame. His “best engineering opinion” was that none of the facilities examined were ever utilised for the execution of human beings and that the crematories could not have supported the work load attributed to them.
7.88 Irving was convinced by the conclusion at which Leuchter arrived on the basis of the chemical analysis of the fabric of the supposed gas chambers. So convinced was he by Leuchter’s reasoning, he decided to publish under his own imprint Focal Publications Limited, the text of the report with a foreword written by Irving. The Foreword accepts that there were methodological flaws in the report but it endorses Leuchter’s findings, ending with the words “Forensic chemistry is, I repeat, an exact science”.
7.89 It was put to Irving in cross-examination that the fallacy in the Leuchter report was his assumption that a far higher concentration of cyanide, in the region of 3,200 parts per million (“ppm”), would be required to kill people in the gas chambers than would be required for the purpose of delousing clothing. In truth, it was suggested to him, it is the other way round: high levels of cyanide are required for delousing purposes whereas in the region of 300 ppm will suffice for the purpose of killing human beings. Irving responded by saying that this criticism of the Leuchter report has to be “taken on board” and that “probably concessions have to be made at both ends of this scale”. Irving observed that the report had the desirable consequence of promoting public debate. He remained adamant that, whatever its flaws, the crucial conclusion of the Leuchter report, based on the chemical analysis, was correct. He argued that the chambers were freshly constructed out of concrete and so would have absorbed the hydrogen cyanide producing permanent chemical changes to the fabric of the walls and ceiling. Irving accepted that, if the concentration of cyanide required for delousing clothes is far higher than the level required to kill humans, one is more likely to find 40 years residual traces of the cyanide in the fabric of the delousing chamber than in the fabric of the supposed gas chambers. But he argued that one would still expect to find far more traces in the alleged gas chambers than those recorded in the Leuchter report.
Replication of Leuchter’s findingsEdit
7.90 Irving contended that the results of the chemical test conducted on behalf of Leuchter had been replicated by amongst others Germar Rudolf, a chemist at the Max Planck Institute. Van Pelt knew little of his report but agreed that Rudolf’s findings broadly corresponded with those of Leuchter. Irving produced a letter from the Institute for Historical Review which claimed that others had arrived at similar conclusions. He also claimed (and van Pelt accepted) that in about 1989 the Auschwitz authorities carried out tests which also found high cyanide traces in the delousing chambers and much lower quantities in crematoria 2 and 3. The results of these tests were not published. Subsequently further tests were conducted and the results were published in the so-called Markievicz report (the conclusions of which I have already summarised).
The absence of chimneys protruding through of morgue 1 of crematorium 2Edit
7.91 As the trial progressed, it appeared that one of the main arguments advanced by Irving for denying the existence of homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz, if not his main argument, is that the remains of the roof of morgue 1 at crematorium 2 show no sign of the chimneys which, according to the Defendants’ case penetrated through the roof so as to enable Zyklon-B pellets to be tipped down into the morgue below. It will be recalled van Pelt claimed that crematorium 2 was the most lethal building of Auschwitz. In excess of 500,000 Jews lost their lives there, more than in any other place on the planet. It is the Defendants’ case that the Zyklon-B pellets were fed into the chamber by means of wire mesh column which ran upwards through the roof of the chamber with the chimney protruding above roof level. The roof was made of reinforced concrete about 18-20cm in thickness with reinforcing bars within the concrete. If the chimney passed through the roof, argued Irving, the roof would to this day have five holes in it where the chimneys passed through the roof.
7.92 It is common ground that the roof of Leichenkeller 1 was supported by seven concrete pillars. The Defendants allege that adjacent to four of these pillars there ran hollow ducts or chimneys made of heavy wire mesh which protruded through holes in the roof where the pellets were poured into them and ran down into the chamber below. These ducts were 70 square centimetres in size but tapered at the top where they passed through the roof. It is Irving’s case that these ducts never existed. He made that assertion because, he said, there is no trace in what remains of the roof of any holes through it. Furthermore the chimneys do not appear in the blue prints for the construction of the crematoria. Part of the roof of Leichenkeller 1 is intact, although it has pancaked down on to the floor. Irving produced a photograph which appears to show no sign of any hole in the roof. Van Pelt conceded in one of his supplementary reports that there is no sign of the holes. It would be impossible for chimneys of the size described by Tauber and Kula to have disappeared. Irving contended that, if the holes exist, it would be a simple matter to uncover the roof so as to find out if they are there. But no one has attempted this task and he wondered why not.
7.93 As for such evidence as there is of the existence of the ducts, most of it comes from some of the eye-witnesses. But, claimed Irving, they give varying accounts of the manner in which the pellets were introduced into the gas chamber and most of them (including Bimko and Bendel) have turned out to be liars. Irving claimed to have destroyed the credibility of all of them in his cross-examination of van Pelt. Olere’s drawings were probably influenced by what he was told by others and in any event he was a fantasist. The photograph taken in 1942 and relied on van Pelt does not show the chimneys. The smudges on which van Pelt relies were probably barrels of tar parked on the roof during building operations. No such smudges were visible on aerial photographs taken in 1944.
7.94 At one stage in his evidence Irving appeared to concede that Leichenkeller 1 of crematorium 2 was a gas chamber but that it was used solely for delousing purposes. In the end, however, it was his position that he had not seen any evidence that there were any gas chambers at all there whether for delousing or extermination purposes. In his evidence he went so far as to say that, if anyone detected holes in the roof, he would abandon his libel action. As he graphically put it in his closing submission, Irving argued that “[the Defendants’] entire case on Krema 2 – the untruth that it was used as a factory of death, with SS guards tipping canisters of cyanide-soaked pellets into the building through those four (non-existent) holes- had caved in, as surely as has that roof”.
The reason for the alterations to crematorium 2: fumigation or alternatively air-raid shelterEdit
7.95 One explanation put forward by Irving for the adaptation work to morgue 1 and crematorium 2 is that the chamber was being adapted to serve the purpose of fumigating clothes (and perhaps other objects). He relied on a document called an Aufstellung sent by Topf to the construction office at the camp in which reference is made Entwesungsofen (disinfestation ovens), which according to Irving proves that such was their true purpose. (Van Pelt countered that these ovens may well have been for disinfecting the clothing of the Sonderkommando or alternatively for a delousing chamber which is known to have been under construction in 1943 between crematoria 2 and 3. But he added that, if it was only clothing which was to be subjected to the gas treatment it was difficult to understand the need for a peephole to be fitted in the door).
7.96 Another thesis advanced by Irving is that the adaptation of crematorium 2 was undertaken in order to convert the building to an air raid shelter rather than to a gas chamber. He claimed that there was, at the time when the reconstruction work was undertaken, concern at Auschwitz about bombing raids. He claimed that this explains why the entrance to building was moved and why the staircase was altered to enable pedestrian access to Leichenkeller 1, which was to serve as the shelter.
7.97 Irving contended that it was standard practice at that time to fit gas tight doors on all air raid shelters in case of Allied poison gas attacks. Irving drew attention to the reference by an eye-witness named Hans Stark to the door of a chamber being luftschutzer which, as van Pelt accepted, signified proof against air raid. (Stark did, however, make that reference in the context of an account of 200 people being gassed). It was, according to Irving, also standard practice for the doors to have peep-holes (although he was uncertain why there should be a metal grill fitted protecting the inside of the peep-hole). Irving was scornful of the claim made by van Pelt that the doors to the chamber were redesigned to open outwards because of the difficulty of pushing the doors open if dead bodies were piled against the inside of the door. Irving claimed that it was standard practice at the time that air raid shelters should have doors which opened outwards. Van Pelt was, however, doubtful if the architectural drawing relied on by Irving to support his contention did indeed provide for doors which opened outwards.
The purpose of the supplies of Zyklon-BEdit
7.98 It is common ground that quantities of Zyklon-B were delivered by truck from Dessau to Auschwitz. Irving contended that these deliveries were for the purpose of fumigating the camp and the clothes of the inmates. A large quantity of the cyanide was needed to combat the typhus outbreak in the summer of 1942. In reliance on figures provided by Mulka, an adjutant at Auschwitz with responsibility for the deliveries, as well as upon the quantity supplied to the camp at Oranienberg, Irving argues that the quantity of Zyklon-B delivered is consistent with it having been used for the purpose of fumigation and no other.
7.99 Irving pointed to a document recording permission being given for such a delivery which stated in terms that the purpose for which the Zyklon-B was required was to carry out fumigation. He relied also on an invoice which made reference to an Entwesungsabteilung (disinfestation department). Herr Tesch of the company which supplied Zyklon-B to the camp testified at his trial that the material was for disinfestation. If cyanide had been used in the alleged gas chambers on the scale claimed by the Defendants to kill Jews, there was, according to Irving, a real danger that the poison might have found its way into the water supply for the camp.
The logistical impossibility of extermination on the scale contended for by the DefendantsEdit
7.100 Irving produced an enlarged photograph depicting what he claimed to be the Auschwitz coke bunker. He argued that it is far too small to have been capable of accommodating the huge amount of coke which would have been needed for the incineration of thousands of bodies. (Van Pelt pointed out that each crematorium had its own coke storage bunker). Irving advanced the further related argument that it would have required 35kg of coke to incinerate a single body. He based that argument on evidence that at another camp at Gussen that that was the weight of coke required. On that premise he contended that it was logistically impossible for sufficient coke to have been supplied and stored at Auschwitz to burn bodies at the rate envisaged in a letter of 28 June 1943 written by Bischoff, the Chief of the Central Construction Management at Auschwitz. Irving disputed the authenticity of that document for reasons which I set out at paragraph 7.105. Alternatively he contended that in any event it can be explained by the urgent need for capacity to incinerate the bodies of those who succumbed during the typhus epidemic which raged through Auschwitz in the summer of 1942.
7.101 Irving asserted that the only way of transporting corpses from the morgue up to the incinerators was by lift. He maintained that the lift was incapable of supplying the incinerators with bodies at rates which would have enabled the incinerators to burn the number of Jews claimed by the Defendants to have been gassed at the camp. In other words, the lift was a bottleneck which demonstrated the Defendants’ figures for the numbers killed and incinerated to be flawed. In addition, since the incinerators would not have reduced the corpses to ash, Irving questioned how the bones and other unburned parts of so many bodies could have been disposed of.
Irving’s investigation of the documentary evidenceEdit
7.102 The Leuchter report having acted as a catalyst, Irving testified that he spent some months in the period following its publication going round the archives with an open mind looking for evidence that Auschwitz was an extermination camp. Although that was the claim that he made in 1988, in his evidence he described the difficulties confronting him in regard to any such investigation. Auschwitz itself was still behind the Iron Curtain (although Irving agreed he made no attempt to gain access to the site). The Soviet archives (where most of the Auschwitz documents and in particular the construction documents had been consigned) remained closed to Westerners until 1990. So on his own account Irving’s investigation was confined to the German Federal Archives (until he was finally banned from visiting Germany in late 1993), the national archives in Washington and libraries such as the Hoover library in California.
7.103 Hampered though he was in his attempt to investigate the issue, Irving relied strongly on the extreme paucity of the documentary evidence for the existence of genocidal gas chambers. He pointed out that there is no reference to the Russians having discovered gas chambers when they liberated the camp in January 1945. Irving relied further on the absence of any reference in the reports sent in cypher from Auschwitz to Berlin (which were intercepted and decoded at Bletchley and commented upon by Professor Himsley) to the death of any inmate in a gas chamber at the camp. Deaths from typhus and other causes, including shooting, are faithfully recorded but there is never any reference to killing by gas. Since the reports were secret, argued Irving, there would have been no need to omit deaths by gassing. Evans considered it to be unsurprising that there should have been no reference to the deaths in the gas chambers of registered inmates of the camp given the high level of secrecy which surrounded the policy of extermination by that method. As for those who were not registered as inmates, they would not have featured in the reports in any event.
7.104 Irving relied on the camp registers which have recently been released by the Russians. According to his argument, these registers demonstrate that the number of those registered as having been admitted to Auschwitz is wholly irreconcilable with the number of Jews said by the Defendants to have perished in the gas chambers there. The response of the Defendants to this argument is that there is clear evidence that the camp registers did not include those who were killed immediately on arrival at Auschwitz. In this connection the Defendants relied on the evidence to that effect of General Pohl, the economic director of the Nazi concentration camps, as well as upon the evidence of certain of the eye-witnesses (including for example Pery Broad) to which I have already made reference.
7.105 Those documents apart, Irving drew attention to the fact of the thousands of documents studied by historians over the years, hardly any have surfaced which lend real support for the case for the existence of the gas chambers being used for extermination purposes. Irving in his evidence at the Zundel trial dismissed as tendentious the translation of Vergasungskeller in Bischoff’s letter of 29 January 1943 word as ‘gas chamber’. It signified no more than a room where gassing apparatus would be installed without the connotation that the gas would be used to kill human beings. The word Vergasungskeller would not be used by a German to refer to a gas chamber: he would use Gasungskeller. Similarly the Vergasungsapparate mentioned in Wetzel’s letter of 25 October 1941 were required for fumigation and not genocidal purposes. Irving produced an invoice to the Auschwitz Construction office which refers to an Entwesungsanlage (disinfection chamber) in support of his contention that such a facility existed at the camp.
7.106 Irving dismissed several of the allegedly incriminating documents as unauthentic if not downright forgeries. One particular target for an attack of this kind was mounted upon Bischoff’s estimate of the capacity of the incinerators in his letter of 28 June 1943 (to which I have already made reference). Irving relied, amongst other things, on the absence of a reference to Auschwitz in the heading of the letter; on the allegedly unusual, if not unique, way in which the reference is typed at the head of the letter; on the way the date is typed; on the initials of the secretary who typed the letter being the wrong initials for Bischoff’s secretary; on the inaccurate designation of the rank of the addressee of the letter, General Kammler, which omitted the distinctive symbol used by the Nazis for members of the SS. Irving also pointed out that, at the date when the letter was written, one of the incinerators referred to in the letter had been taken out of commission and another was under repair, so that it would have been inappropriate and unlikely that Bischoff would have included them in his assessment of the overall incineration capacity of the camp.
7.107 Another argument advanced by Irving for doubting the genocidal use of gas chambers at Auschwitz was based upon an instruction circulated on 26 October 1943 by Pohl, chief of all concentration camps, to each camp commandant instructing him to implement measures to reduce the number of deaths amongst the inmates by the provision of better food and clothing and the like. Irving also produced a letter to doctors at the camps requiring them to make extra efforts to ensure the effectiveness of the labour force by improving their health and mortality. Irving also produced a table signed by Pohl which records a reduction in the level of mortality in camps generally from 10% in December 1942 to about 8% in January 1943 as a result of hygiene measures which had been taken. In the same vein Irving relied on the note of a conference in June 1942 presided over by Dannecker, Eichmann’s subordinate, which made reference to orders issued by Himmler to increase the workforce at Auschwitz. Irving relied on the note as evidence that Auschwitz was essentially a work camp. But Longerich pointed out that Himmler had made provision that 10% of those deported did not need to be fit for work. Longerich inferred that they were to be killed on arrival. Irving contended that the 10% provision was for wives and children. Such documents are, Irving argued, wholly inconsistent with the Nazis having been engaged at the same time upon a programme of exterminating Jews in gas chambers at Auschwitz.
7.108 In the light of such research as he has been able to undertake since 1989, Irving deploys other arguments and contentions (many of them advanced in the course of his cross-examination of van Pelt) which he claims bear out Leuchter’s conclusions and which afford further reasons for doubting the existence of killing by gas at Auschwitz.
Irving’s response to the eye-witness evidenceEdit
7.109 As to the Defendants’ reliance on the evidence of eye-witnesses, Irving asserted that, since as many as 6,000 have survived the camp, the proportion of witnesses confirming the existence of gas chambers is remarkably small. The vast majority have not claimed that there were gas chambers at the camp.
7.110 In any case Irving contended that generically the eye-witnesses, whilst they are not to be discounted altogether, are not reliable or credible. Some can be shown to be inaccurate in their claims (eg Dr Bimko) or inconsistent (eg Hoss). Others gave evidence through fear or in order to curry favour with their captors (eg Aumeier). The evidence of many of them was the result of “cross-pollination” with the recollection of other supposed eye-witnesses or was influenced by their having been shown the blueprints for the alleged gas chambers (eg Tauber). The evidence of a number of such witnesses (eg Kramer) can be explained by the fact that they were describing chambers which were used for fumigation purposes rather then killing. Irving gives as a reason for doubting the reliability of Olere’s sketches that he made the absurd claim to the historian Pressac that the SS made sausages in the crematoria. Another reasons for doubting Olere’s reliability, according to Irving, is that flame as well as smoke can be seen in one sketch emerging from the top of the main chimney. Van Pelt agreed that no flame would have been visible since the chimney was 90 feet tall. Irving suggested that Olere’s drawings may have been based on post-war reports, adding the gratuitous comment that he appears to have taken a prurient interest in naked women.
7.111 Irving also relied on the figures for the numbers of deaths of inmates through illness or from overwork in support of an argument that the purpose, or at least the principal purpose, which the crematoria at Auschwitz served was to incinerate the corpses of those who had died in this way. So, Irving’s argument proceeded, the eyewitness evidence of the Sonderkommandos and others of the operation of the crematoria and the stripping of gold from the mouths of the corpses can be explained on the basis that these were the corpses of those who had died from disease or overwork rather than those who had been murdered in the gas chambers.
7.112 For all these reasons, some positive and some negative but all pointing in the same direction, Irving concluded that his initial reaction to the Leuchter report was correct: the evidence does not bear out the claim that gas chambers were operated to liquidate hundreds of thousands of Jews. The evidence relied on by the Defendants is riddled with inconsistencies and remains unpersuasive. He accepted that the cellar at Leichenkeller 1 was used as a gassing cellar but only to fumigate “objects or cadavers”. As to the use of gas to kill humans, the most he was prepared to concede was that there were gassings “on some scale” at Auschwitz.
The Defendants’ arguments in rebuttalEdit
The Defendants’ critique of the Leuchter ReportEdit
7.113 The Defendants are highly critical of Irving for having attached any credence to the Leuchter report. Van Pelt included in his report a detailed critique of Leuchter, his methodology and his conclusions. His criticisms echo those contained in a reasoned rebuttal sent to Irving late in 1989 by a Mr Colin Beer (which at that time Irving acknowledged had some force).
7.114 According to both van Pelt and Beer, the fundamental flaw in the report was Leuchter’s assumption that the concentration of cyanide in the killing chambers would have needed to be greater than the concentration in the delousing chamber, that is, in the region of 3,200 ppm or higher. According to them that assumption is simply wrong. Moreover it demolished or at least undermined a number of the reasons advanced by Leuchter for denying the existence of the killing chambers. Basing himself on the high concentration of cyanide which he assumed would have been needed to gas humans, Leuchter had argued that the ventilation system of the chambers would have been wholly inadequate. But, say the Defendants, if the concentration required was much lower, it would follow that the ventilation requirements would be correspondingly reduced. Irving accepted that this was a logical conclusion. Similarly Leuchter’s argument that the high concentration of cyanide required to kill humans would have created a high risk of toxic contamination of the sewers is invalidated if the concentration required was a fraction of that assumed by Leuchter. Irving again agreed that this is a logical conclusion. He also agrees that the need for elaborate safety precautions, also relied on by Leuchter, would be radically reduced.
7.115 The Defendants relied on the content of an interview of Dr Roth, the scientist at the Massachusetts laboratory which carried out the tests on Leuchter’s samples. According to Dr Roth, cyanide produces a surface reaction which will penetrate no further than one tenth of the breadth of human hair. The samples with which he was provided by Leuchter ranged in size between a human thumb and a fist, so they had to be broken down with a hammer before analysis. Roth asserts that the resulting dilution of any cyanide traces effectively invalidates the test results.
7.116 Apart from what the Defendants regard as the fundamentally flawed assumption by Leuchter about the concentration of cyanide required for killing purposes, they identified numerous errors of fact in his report. He wrongly stated that there was no provision for gas-fitted (that is, sealed) doors and windows in the gas chambers. Tthe walls of the Leichenkeller were, contrary to what Leuchter claimed, sealed with a coating of plaster. Leuchter wrongly assumed that there was a mains sewer. He wrongly stated that there was no exhaust or ventilation system and that the facilities were damp and unheated. He asserted unjustifiably that there would have been a risk of death to those inserting Zyklon-B pellets into the roof vents. Irving accepted the validity of most of these criticisms of the Leuchter report.
7.117 Basing himself on the arguments which I have rehearsed in abbreviated form, van Pelt, not mincing his words, dismissed the Leuchter report as “scientific garbage”.
The Defendants’ case as to the absence of signs of chimneys in the roof of Leichenkeller 1Edit
7.118 The Defendants accept that the physical evidence remaining at the site of Auschwitz provides little evidence to support the claim that gas chambers were operated there for genocidal purposes. The explanation, according to the Defendants, is that, after the revelations in the Allied media concerning the gas chambers at the camp at Majdanek in late 1944, Himmler ordered the dismantling of the extermination installations in the crematoria at Auschwitz. In late 1944 the Nazis duly dynamited the crematoria and destroyed the camp archives (or so they intended: as has been observed above, documents from the Central Construction Office accidentally survived).
7.119 Van Pelt addressed in his evidence the argument that chimneys for inserting Zyklon-B pellets into Leichenkeller I cannot have existed because there is no trace of any holes in the roof of the chamber. He agreed that the blueprints for the design of the gas chamber in crematoria 2 did not provide for metal chimneys or ducts. They are not included in the drawings because, according to van Pelt, the drawings were prepared before the decision was taken to use Leichenkeller 1 as a gas chamber.
7.120 As to Irving’s claim that the pancaked roof shows no sign of the chimneys, the Defendants point out that this is a new argument which Irving appears first to have lighted on in November 1998. Its relevance to the criticisms of Irving as an historian is therefore open to doubt. In response to Irving’s claim van Pelt maintained, firstly, that the roof is in such a mess and most of it is so inaccessible that it is impossible to verify whether or not the holes existed. In any case he claimed that it is likely that, when the gas chambers were dismantled in 1944, the chimneys would have been removed and the holes cemented over so as to remove incriminating evidence. (Irving regards this as highly implausible since the Russians were by then poised on the eastern side of the Vistula). Moreover, van Pelt repeated that there exists powerful evidence for the existence of chimneys, namely the photographic and eye-witness evidence (including Olere’s drawings which I have summarised above).
The redesign of crematorium 2Edit
7.121 The Defendants dismiss as nonsensical the claim that the reason for the redesign of crematorium was to facilitate the fumigation of “objects and corpses”. Contemporaneous documents identified by the Defendants show that the new design incorporated a undressing room (Auskleiderkeller). Irving was unable to explain in cross-examination what need there would have been for an undressing room if the facility was to be used only for the fumigating of dead bodies and inanimate objects. Irving’s theory is in any case untenable, argued van Pelt, because the redesign was clearly intended to enable live people to walk downstairs (see paragraph 7.61 above). Moreover, there would have been no need for a metal-protected, reinforced spy-hole if only corpses and metal objects were to be gassed (see paragraph 7.68 above).
7.122 Van Pelt rejected Irving’s argument that the reconstruction work at crematorium 2 was carried out in order to convert it to use as an air raid shelter. In the first place he pointed out that Crematorium 2 is some 1.5 miles away from the SS barracks, that is, too far away for members of the SS to reach in the event of a raid. The shelter would in any event have been too small to accommodate more than a fraction of the SS personnel and obviously wholly inadequate for the camp inmates (even if the Nazis had wanted to protect them). Van Pelt did not accept that, if the chamber was to become a shelter, it would have needed to have a gas-tight door with a peep-hole protected on the inside by a metal grill. He also disputed that, at the time of construction, there was any reason to fear air raids. However, Irving was able to produce a document dated 6 August 1942 setting out detailed guidelines as to the precautions against air raids to be taken in the military area of the General Government.
The quantity of Zyklon-B requiredEdit
7.123 In relation to Irving’s argument that the quantity of Zyklon-B delivered to the camp could be explained as being needed for fumigation purposes, Van Pelt produced a supplementary report in which he noted that the amount of Zyklon-B delivered to Auschwitz vastly exceeded the quantity delivered to other camps. He made a detailed calculation, based on delivery documents and on stated assumptions about the frequency of fumigations, that of the total amount of Zyklon-B delivered to Auschwitz in 1943 (12,000 kilos) not more than 9,000 kilos would have been required for fumigation. That would leave unaccounted for 3,000 kilos, which van Pelt contended would have been more than enough to kill the 250,000 Jews estimated to have been gassed to death that year.
The Defendants’ response to Irving’s logistical argumentEdit
7.124 Van Pelt dismissed the suggestion made by Irving that if cyanide had been used to gas Jews in the chambers, there would have been a risk of the entire water supply at the camp becoming contaminated. The gas was evacuated from the chambers by means of the ventilation system through a chimney and not through the floor into a drain.
7.125 Likewise van Pelt rejected the argument that the quantity of coke delivered to Auschwitz was insufficient to fuel the incineration of the corpses in the numbers which the Defendants claim were killed at the camp. He challenged the premise of Irving’s argument which was that as much as 35kg of coke would have been required for each body incinerated: basing himself on a contemporaneous calculation and assuming bodies were burned together at the rate contemplated in the Bischoff’s letter of 28 June 1943, he maintained that the quantity of coke required per corpse would have been no more than 3.5kg)
7.126 Van Pelt calculated that the capacity of the incinerators vastly exceeded what would have been required, even on a worst case scenario, to deal with deaths from typhus. He did not accept that the carrying capacity of the lift would have significantly limited that rate at which corpses could have been incinerated. As to the disposal of those parts of the bodies which were not reduced to ash in the ovens, van Pelt explained that the evidence is that the remains were pulverised by the Sonderkommandos and then buried in pits or dumped in the river Vistula.
The Defendants’ response to Irving’s argument in relation to the documentary evidenceEdit
7.127 The Defendants accept that there are few overt references to gas chambers at Auschwitz in contemporaneous documents but suggest that the absence is readily understandable. I have already alluded to the evidence of Ertl, the architect employed at the Auschwitz Central Construction Office, that he was told by Bischoff that no reference should be made to gassing and that such terms as “special action” or special measure” should be used instead. The Defendants contend that it was standard procedure to disguise the existence of genocidal gas chambers either by the use of such innocuous terms or referring to their having a delousing function.
7.128 In answer to Irving’s claim that documents exist which are irreconcilable with a programme of mass extermination at Auschwitz (for example urging that measures be taken to reduce the mortality rate), Longerich asserted that these documents have no bearing whatsoever on the treatment of those who were gassed on arrival at Auschwitz without becoming registered as inmates of the camps. The documents simply reflect a degree of caution in carrying out the policy of extermination by slave labour which had been proceeding in parallel with the gassing. The Nazis were becoming concerned at the rate at which the supply of labour was being reduced by death from typhus. Longerich further pointed out that the figures contained in the documents relied on by Irving were apt to mislead because they relate to both Jews and non-Jews: if the figures were confined to Jews, the picture would be very different.
7.129 But the Defendants contend that there are in the contemporaneous documents incriminating references. I have already made reference to some of them. Invited to comment on the catalogue of reasons given by Irving for denying the authenticity of Bischoff’s letter of 28 June 1943 (see paragraph 7.106 above), van Pelt testified that the letter is in the Moscow archive. It first surfaced in the 1950s, that is, before any issue had been raised about the incineration capacity of the ovens, so that at the time there was no reason to have forged it. Van Pelt produced another version of the document which came from the Domburg archive. He suggested that no forger would have inserted the forged document into two different archives. Moreover, van Pelt would not accept that what Irving perceived to be oddities about the document suggesting it is a forgery were in truth anything of the kind. He assembled a clip of Auschwitz documents which display most of the odd features upon which Irving founded his argument that the letter is not genuine. He was unable, however, to produce another example of an error in the designation of the rank of an SS officer. In addition he agreed he had not come across another document which had the abbreviation “Ne” for the name of the secretary who typed it. Van Pelt concludes that there was no standard format for documents at the camp. His overall conlusion was that he had no doubt about its authenticity.
7.130 In answer to Irving’s reliance on the absence of references to deaths by gassing in either the decrypts or the camp “death books”, the Defendants contend (as already noted) that both relate to registered inmates at the camp and not to those who were gassed on arrival. There was moreover a natural concern to observe the greatest secrecy about the gassing operations.