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The Holocaust History Project.

Re: Rudolf's Affidavit

Let us begin with the general claim that is made for Rudolf's affidavit: the fact that it is "founded upon the same author's earlier analysis of the improbability or outright impossibility of the established historiography of Auschwitz." 11 This is a major claim, but it is not based on any facts. Rudolf has not undertaken any analysis of the established historiography of Auschwitz, which encompasses by now many hundreds of books and articles. Very important research has been done on the administrative and economic history of the camp, on the people imprisoned in the camp, and the people who were deported to the camp to be immediately killed. What Irving labels as "the established historiography of Auschwitz" is a mosaic created by many different scholars, which touches many different topics and is founded on many different evidentiary sources. Rudolf has considered virtually none of this historiography. He has not addressed the work of Jan Sehn, or the work of Danuta Czech, Franciszek Piper, Alfred Koniecny, Hermann Langbein, Josef Garlinski, Israel Gutman, Raul Hilberg, Tadeusz Iwaszko, Henryk Swiebocki, Stanislaw Klodzinski, Tadeusz Paczula, Irena Strzelecka, or for that matter the comprehensive history of Auschwitz written by Deborah Dwork and myself. The only author he "engages" is a man consistently identified as "the pharmacist Pressac." Pressac's 1989 opus Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the gas Chambers does not represent the "established historiography of Auschwitz." It is a part of it, a small part, and at many points even a rather controversial part - no more, and no less.

The only part of this historiography which Rudolf has addressed is the one relating to the bunkers and the crematoria, and his "contribution" limits itself to a nihilistic "attack" on some carefully selected pieces of evidence which he does not relate to a large body of evidence he completely ignores, and which at the same time he completely decontextualizes from their historical background. It is fair to consider in this context the so-called "Final Determinations" of Rudolf's An Expert Report on the Formation and Detectability of Cyanide Compounds in the 'Gas Chambers' of Auschwitz (1993). In this, Rudolf was quite clear about the scope of his investigation. First of all, he claimed to have researched the formation and stability of residual cyanide in the walls of the crematoria and some other buildings in Birkenau, and to have analyzed samples from those walls. Because he found that the outer walls of a delousing building in Birkenau were stained blue, and the walls of the gas chambers of the crematoria lacked that blue staining, he concluded that "on physical-chemical grounds, the mass gassings with Prussic acid in the supposed 'gas chambers' of Auschwitz claimed by witnesses could not have taken place." Furthermore, Rudolf argued that he did not find evidence of Zyklon-B introduction holes in the roof of the gas chambers of crematoria 2 and 3 - arguing that "the holes in the roofs visible today were made after the war" - that the hydrogen cyanide would have taken several hours to be released in the gas chambers, and that the ventilation system of the gas chambers would have taken at least two hours to reduce the level of hydrogen cyanide to safe levels. On the basis of this he concluded that "the procedures of mass gassing narrated in witness testimony given before the courts, cited in judicial rulings and described in scientific and literary publications, in any building of Auschwitz whatever, are not consistent with natural scientific law." In other words, all the eyewitnesses are wrong. Rudolf does not consider the possibility that he may be wrong.

Given the fact that Irving makes such a grand claim for Rudolf, it is remarkable that the latter did not address the systematic way in which I tried to establish the evidentiary foundations of the "established historiography" in Chapters 3 to 6 of my expert report - four chapters that deal in almost 300 pages with the emergence of evidence about the use of Auschwitz as an extermination camp between 1942 and 1947. It is also remarkable that he did not challenge at all the historiographical principle that was central to my approach - one that reflects proper historiographical practice: namely that not one piece of evidence suffices to prove or disprove a fact, but that various pieces of evidence of many different kinds and classes converge towards a conclusion. That evidence certainly may include research on the formation and stability of residual cyanide in walls in general, and in the walls of the Auschwitz crematoria in particular, and it may also include evidence about holes in the ruined slab of concrete that once served as the roof of the gas chamber of crematorium 2, or about the time it takes for hydrogen cyanide to be released from Zyklon-B pellets, or on the power of the ventilation system in the crematoria. But all these pieces of evidence must be considered in the context of other pieces of evidence, as for example the testimonies of the men who ran the crematoria, or the Sonderkommando who worked in them, not to mention the contemporary documents which corroborate those testimonies. If there is an apparent contradiction between different pieces of evidence, then it behooves the student of the evidence to ask tough questions: perhaps an eyewitness was mistaken, or perhaps the calculation was wrong, or perhaps both the testimony and the experiment were wrong. But one has no right to categorically dismiss one category of evidence - that of the eyewitnesses - just because it seems to contradict a laboratory experiment or a calculation concerning some technical potential.

In his affidavit, Rudolf produces a number of unrelated attacks on some selected parts of the evidence that Auschwitz was an extermination camp equipped with homicidal gas chambers, and he has proposed some mutually exclusive alternative explanations for selected pieces of evidence. At no point did Rudolf even begin to actually revise the history of Auschwitz, or any part of this, and he has not created even the beginning of a plausible narrative that one can engage with. Like Holocaust Deniers before him, his approach has been exclusively nihilistic.

The attacks are not only unrelated, and refuse to add up to a plausible narrative. They are actually contradictory. Thus Rudolf maintains at one point that the alleged gas chamber of crematoria 2 and 3 was a delousing cellar for objects (p. 304 affidavit), at another that it was a morgue for corpses of people who died from infectious diseases (p. 305 affidavit), or a shower room for either living or dead inmates (p. 24 affidavit), and then he claims that it was an air-raid shelter (pp. 305ff affidavit). In two consecutively paragraphs he claims that the undressing room in the basement of crematoria 2 and 3 point he claims that the undressing room served to undress the corpses of people who had died elsewhere in the camp, and he claims that it served as an undressing room for inmates who were to shower in the basement of these very crematoria (p. 283 affidavit, see also p. 24ff). In his attacks on the evidence, Rudolf if forced to bring forward various alternative suggestions as to what the gas chamber in the basement of crematoria 2 and 3 actually was since not a single of his suggestive alternatives - either a delousing cellar, or a morgue for people who died from infectious diseases, or an air raid shelter - is actually able to provide an explanation of all the curious features that indicate that this space was actually a cellar that originally been designed as a morgue and that had been transformed in a process of adaptive re-use into a homicidal gas chamber.

Quite apart from the many historical errors, the various alternative explanations of the evidence offered by Rudolf can not be unified in any coherent proposition that offers a narrative that offers a plausible alternative to such histories of Auschwitz as written some 50 years ago by Judge Jan Sehn, or as recently as 6 years ago by Debórah Dwork and myself.

As to the various suggestions he has made to neutralize inconvenient evidence, Rudolf has at not a single point been able to support these various possibilities with a single piece of eyewitness or even significant documentary evidence. For example, he has suggested that morgue 1 of crematorium 2, which according to eyewitnesses such as H&oumlss, Broad, Stark, Tauber and others served as a homicidal gas chamber, was in fact a delousing cellar, or an air-raid shelter, or an actual morgue for people who died of "natural" causes (p. 17 affidavit). Yet he does not provide any statement by either an SS official, or a camp inmate, or a civilian that supports any of these allegations. He does not offer, either, a document that clearly supports his suggestion. And he ignores the convergence of evidence that supports the interpretation that morgue 1 was, as the eyewitnesses have testified, a homicidal gas chamber. The same applies to his suggestion that morgue 2, which was referred to as an undressing room in various documents, and which eyewitnesses have identified as the place where the victims undressed before being gassed, was in fact an undressing room and a shower room for corpses (pp. 18ff and pp. 24ff affidavit).

Another issue is that Rudolf tries to pass over inconvenient evidence. The case of crematoria 4 and 5 is an obvious example. Unlike crematoria 2 and 3, crematoria 4 and 5 were from the very beginning designed as killing installations. If in crematoria 2 and 3 the underground cellars were transformed in a late stage of the construction from morgues into a sequence of rooms that included an undressing room and a gas chamber - an example of adaptive re-use that necessitated some awkward compromises - crematoria 4 and 5 were efficient and economic killing machines. Both crematoria had three gas chambers. Rudolf does admit that these rooms were intended to be used as gas chambers, but he then argues that these gas chambers would have been Zyklon B delousing chambers, invoking an alleged item in the plan of the building which I have been unable to find. He does not address the fact that there is absolutely no eyewitness testimony that supports this suggestion, and that there are is not a single document that supports the suggestion that these gas chambers were in fact delousing chambers. And he ignores a curious feature of these gas chambers which one does not find in any of the delousing chambers in Auschwitz: the presence of the small gastight shutters, measuring 30 by 40 cm. These were located close to the ceiling. When opened, these gastight shutters allowed the SS to introduce Zyklon B into the gas chamber without having to enter that space. Such shutters were not necessary in delousing rooms, as a person equipped with a gas mask could enter such spaces, open a can with Zyklon B, pour the contents on the floor, and quickly leave shutting the gastight door behind him. But if the room was filled with people, this procedure was impossible, and therefore the presence of the small, gas-tight shutters, located above the heads of the victims, was required.

Another example which Rudolf refuses to address is the remarkable convergence of evidence that occurs in the case of, for example, the existence of the gas columns and their attendant "holes" in the gas chambers of crematoria 2 and 3. In my expert report and during my testimony given in the trial I pointed out that the existence of these columns, which were an essential part of the machinery of destruction of crematoria 2 and 3, could be established on the basis of the convergence of independent eyewitness evidence given by Henryk Tauber and Michael Kula in Poland in the spring of 1945, drawings made by David Olere in France in the spring of 1945 and early 1946, drawings made by Yehuda Bacon in Austria and Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1945, and non-intentional evidence such as a photo of crematorium 2 taken in early 1943 and American air photos of Auschwitz taken in the spring and summer of 1944. These various pieces of evidence have some remarkable details in common, such as, for example, the fact that according to Tauber, Olere, the German photo from 1943 and the American air photos from 1944 the gas columns were arranged in a zig-zag pattern. Rudolf does not deal with the convergence of this evidence at all, and does not address these remarkable resemblances. Furthermore he suppresses important evidence that does support the existence of these gas columns, such as an inventory of crematorium 2 that mentions in morgue 1 four instrument s identified as a Drahtnetzeinschiebvorrichtung[en], which translates as a wire mesh introduction device[s].

Another issue that deserves comment is that at Rudolf employs at crucial points in his affidavit two historiographical fallacies: the fallacy of negative proof, and the fallacy of possible proof. In his classic handbook on historiographical fallacies, David Hacked Fischer described the fallacy of negative proof as follows:

The fallacy of negative proof is an attempt to sustain a factual proposition merely by negative evidence. It occurs whenever a historian declares that "there is no evidence that X is the case," and then proceeds to affirm or assume that not-X is the case. He may have spent all the years of his youth in the Antiquarian society, feverishly seeking the holy X and never finding it. He may have examined every relevant scrap of evidence in every remote repository, without reward. He and every other reasoning being on this planet may know that not-X is the case. But a simple statement that "there is no evidence of X" means precisely what it says - no evidence. The only correct empirical procedure is to find affirmative evidence of not-X - which is often difficult, but never in my experience impossible.  12

In his affidavit Rudolf invokes negative proof when he argues, as Irving did during the trial, that the apparent difficulty to identify in the ruins of crematoria 2 and 3 the remains of the holes that connected to the gas columns in the gas chambers below proves that these holes, and therefore the gas columns, never existed. In fact, the only thing he could legitimately claim is that the slab does not seem to offer evidence if these holes either existed, or not existed.

Rudolf also commits the fallacy of possible proof.

The fallacy of the possible proof consists in an attempt to demonstrate that a factual statement is true or false by establishing the possibility of its truth or falsity. "One of the greatest fallacies of evidence," a logician has observed, "is the disposition to dwell on the actual possibility of its being false; a possibility which must exist when it is not demonstrative. Counsel can bewilder juries in this way till they almost doubt their own senses." This tactic may indeed prove to be forensically effective in an Anglo-American court of law, but it never proves a point at issue. Valid empirical proof requires not merely the establishment of possibility, but of probability. Moreover, it demands a balanced estimate of probabilities pro and con. If historians, like lawyers, must respect the doctrine of reasonable doubt, they must equally be able to recognize an unreasonable doubt when they see one.  13

Holocaust deniers regularly and systematically dismiss whole categories of perfectly acceptable evidence by arguing in each particular case that another explanation of a selected pieces of evidence may be possible, ignoring the obvious explanation that is supported by other evidence. In his affidavit, Rudolf does the same. Of course: it is remotely possible that morgue 1 of crematoria 2 and 3 was used for any of the different but contradictory functions listed by Rudolf, but, as I will demonstrate below, it is not probable. As I will show, only the use of morgue 1 as a homicidal gas chamber is supported by a convergence of different kinds of evidence.

In his "Skeleton Argument" Irving makes a great claim on behalf of Rudolf's work, ignoring that Rudolf refuses to tackle some 95% of the historiography of Auschwitz, ignoring that Rudolf does not tackle the central historiographical principles on which all of the historiography of Auschwitz is based, ignoring that Rudolf does not provide any plausible counter-narrative to the history of Auschwitz as reconstructed on the basis of convergent evidence by myself and others, and ignoring that Rudolf's affidavit is based on essential historiographical fallacies. What we do have is a text with unsupported allegations, irrelevant speculations, and offensive provocations. It is, in every sense, an opportunistic document in which Rudolf has chosen to attack some selected issues with whatever arguments he had ready on the hard-drive of his computer - a barrage of random observations that do not add up to any general thesis about the material.


Last modified:May 23, 2002
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