Answers for David Irving
Regarding the Jan. 29, 1943 Sonderbehandlung document
by Jamie McCarthy
This document, referring to Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau, reads in part:
I am unaware of an answer from van Pelt, who presumably has better things to do. The questions, however, are easy enough to answer.
Irving misunderstands. Whether this is merely poor scholarship or deliberate feigning of ignorance is an open question.
First, according to the document, the wire led not to the gas chamber specifically (the room designated "Leichenkeller 1") but to the entire Krematorium building. This is an important distinction, and Mr. Irving should be careful to speak more precisely.
More importantly, this document was written at a time when all the pieces of the Krema II building were being put together at once, in a great hurry. There were numerous problems of which this was only one. Van Pelt has already explained the situation in an essay from 1994.  Keep in mind the date on this "Sonderbehandlung" document: January 29th.
Irving, by ignoring context, implies that this one document shows a lack of priority given to the Krematorium; the exact opposite is true. Everything possible was being done to complete the project on time. That is why it was important to solve the problem of the electrical wiring.
It is even possible that the letter was written partially to provide as an excuse for the delays in the frantic work schedule. When one's job is to anticipate future needs, it rarely hurts to state those needs forcefully, especially if this provides a paper trail. If this happened to be the case, van Pelt's explanation would stand, and several of Irving's objections (including this one) would immediately fall.
Irving wishes to have it both ways. When van Pelt paraphrased the document as saying, "You will be able to kill and you will be able to burn simultaneously in this building," Irving complained that this wording was "irresponsible" and argues that "the German text is rather less clear than that."
The only disputed word is "Sonderbehandlung." So if "Sonderbehandlung" is a clear reference to killing, why does Irving protest its being translated that way? And if it is not a clear reference to killing - even fifty-five years later as analyzed by historians - why does Irving consider this an "explicit" reference to the Final Solution?
(In fact, fifty-five years give us a hindsight that the author of the document probably lacked. This hurried request for resources might have been phrased more obliquely, true, but then people make mistakes.)
Irving illustrates a common deceitful tactic of Holocaust-deniers: the document is simultaneously too vague to be understood, yet so precise that its authenticity must be challenged.
There were many documents studied by van Pelt regarding the construction of the Krematoria, which after all were two enormous buildings, impossible to hide. But they were disguised: by rows of trees, and by bureaucratic doubletalk. In documents of this nature, code words were used: this is why the document does not use the word "kill," but the euphemism "special treatment."
In fact, this document, like the others van Pelt studied, was from the archives of the Zentralbauleiting (Central Building Administration). These archives were kept separately from the majority of documents concerning the killing installations. As van Pelt writes on p. 10 of the very book Irving claims to be reviewing, this separate archive was "overlooked by the Germans when they dynamited the crematoria and destroyed incriminating evidence."  It is largely because the architectural documents did not merit top-secret classification that they were the ones to survive: so it is quite impractical for Irving to protest that the surviving documents did not merit top-secret classification!
Finally - Irving is coyly suggesting that the document was a forgery. If it were forged, would it not be more likely that the forgers would have given it the stamp "Geheime Reichssache" anyway - to inflate the document's importance and to avoid questions such as the ones Irving raises?
This is indeed unimportant. As confirmed by the native-German speaking members of the Holocaust History Project, "am" in this context is not uncommon. Irving may not have noticed it - he is not a native speaker.
In fact the document states that simultaneous cremation and gassing could take place, on the condition that use of the "existing machines" be limited.
If Irving would read the literature carefully, he would learn that the fan motors required were larger than one-quarter horsepower - a figure which Irving appears to have made up.
The five oven compressed air blowers were each 3 horsepower.  The elevator to lift corpses to the ovens was 10 horsepower by itself. Indeed, the total projected electrical requirements for Krema II peaked at 83 horsepower. 
Thus to perform "special treatment" - or more precisely to ventilate the chamber afterwards - while all five ovens were operating would require over 60,000 watts.  Sixty kilowatts is a considerable amount of power. Until heavy-duty power lines were installed, it is wholly believable that cremation operations would have had to be partially curtailed.
One would hope that someone who refers to Auschwitz as a "battleship," and whose rallying cry is "Sink the Auschwitz!"  would demonstrate a clear knowledge of the documents relating to the Auschwitz camp.
Instead, David Irving has invented "fundamental problems" where there are none, in a transparent attempt to rationalize away a document which is inconvenient to his beliefs. The fact that he has done so with easily-debunked arguments helps demonstrate his disingenuous and sloppy approach to history and historical documents.
Now that his objections have been answered, will Mr. Irving face the reality of this document, and admit that "special treatment" took place in the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoria buildings? Or will he ignore what he cannot rationalize away? Time will tell.
Update, February 7, 1999: David Irving has added a link to this page from his webpage, referring to it as "a really insolent response ... from another hardened critic." He offers no rebuttal.
2. Pressac, Jean-Claude with Robert-Jan van Pelt, "The Machinery of Mass Murder in Auschwitz," in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Gutman et al., Eds., 1994, pp. 226-7.
3. Dwork, Deborah and Robert-Jan van Pelt, Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present, 1997, p. 10.
4. Pressac and van Pelt, 1994, p. 200. See also top of p. 238 and parenthetical comment p. 232.
5. Pressac, Jean-Claude, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, 1989, pp. 374, 377.
The figure of 83 horsepower includes the 45 horsepower forced draft ventilation system installed on January 26 - it was removed after a fire on March 20, but Bischoff could not have known that on January 29. See ibid p. 370, and Pressac and van Pelt, 1994, pp. 227, 232-3.
6. I do not know whether the horsepower figures listed by the Bauleitung indicate power draw or power output. If the latter, actual electrical consumption could be somewhat higher: electrical motors typically convert power with 85% efficiency.
My thanks go to Mark Van Alstine for research assistance.
Last modified: March 6, 1999