Home Up One Level Search What's New? Guest Book

The Holocaust History Project.

Re: H. Eye Witnesses (41-46)

Before I engage Rudolf's argument on the eye-witnesses, it is important to note that Holocaust deniers tend to focus exclusively on "non-intentional evidence" to make their case - studying crumbling concrete, cyanide traces, construction papers and USAAF photos. This is understandable because they can not rely on eyewitness evidence to make their case. To be sure, two Germans came forward in the 1970s claiming that they could offer eyewitness evidence that Auschwitz could not have been an extermination camp. One of them was a certain Wilhelm Stäglich. Serving with an anti-aircraft battery unit near Auschwitz, he had visited the main camp a few times, and "on none of these visits did I see gassing installations, crematoria, instruments of torture, or similar horrors." A second witness, Thies Christophersen, had served for a short time in one of the agricultural satellite camps of Auschwitz. In 1973 Christophersen published a booklet entitled Die Auschwitz Lüge (The Auschwitz Lie). "I was in Auschwitz from January to December 1944," Christophersen wrote. "After the war I heard about the alleged mass murders of Jews and I was quite taken aback. Despite all the testimony submitted and all the reports in the media, I know such atrocities were never committed." His certainty derived from the fact that his wife was allowed to visit him. "Had Auschwitz been the death factory it is reputed to have been, such visits would certainly not have been permitted." When confronted with the argument that the killings took place in Birkenau, Christophersen recalled that he had once visited Birkenau. "This camp I did not like," he admitted. "It was overcrowded and the people there did not make a good impression on me. Everything looked neglected and grubby. I also saw families with children. It hurt to see them, but I was told that the authorities felt it kinder not to separate children from their parents when the latter were interned." And about selections he knew everything, as he had conducted such selections himself - to find workers for his farm. "This 'selection' was later completely misinterpreted," he claimed. "The purpose was to give the inmates something to do and they themselves wanted to be occupied. Selecting them meant no more than to inquire about their inclinations, their capabilities, and their physical state of health with regard to the work they were to do." Hearing rumors about crematoria, Christophersen asked his Polish maid Olga. " She could not tell me anything either." Then he asked his colleagues, but they responded with "a shrug of the shoulder and 'don't pay any attention to those rumors.'" That settled the issue.

Holocaust deniers hailed Christophersen's account as "one of the most important documents for a re-appraisal of Auschwitz," as it added to the "mounting collection of evidence" that showed that "the giant industrial complex of Auschwitz" had not been "a place of 'mass extermination.'" But for all the ready credence accorded to it by those who thirsted for such material, the tenuous evidence of one or two Germans who had come in contact only with peripheral functions of Auschwitz and who claimed that they had not seen any extermination installations does not even begin to challenge the preponderance of eyewitness evidence asserting that such installations had indeed existed and operated. Moreover to treat the negative evidence of such witnesses - "I did not see it happen" - as positive proof that it did not happen is to fall victim to an obvious logical fallacy. Unless the preponderance of the evidence, objectively regarded, tends to the conclusion that the reason why the witness did not see it happen was that indeed it did not happen, the only inference to be drawn from the testimony of that witness is that he or she happened not to see it; which is inconsequential.

With regard to eyewitnesses, the obvious choice for Holocaust deniers is to dismiss all eyewitness evidence as irrelevant, and turn to the brick, cyanide traces, documents and photos that cannot protest attempts of manipulation, misconstruction and falsification. Rudolf follows in that tradition. Eyewitnesses of the use of Auschwitz as an extermination camp are liars, so he claims, and in this section he makes an effort to "poison the wells," that is to cast doubt on eye-witness evidence relating to the Holocaust. "There is in fact no eye witness testimony less reliable than that relating to the Holocaust." (p. 46 Rudolf affidavit.) To prove this point, Rudolf invokes the authority of the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. She has no authority in this matter, and in any event Rudolf's account is a misrepresentation of her book Witness for the Defense. However, as his misrepresentation is not relevant to Mr. Justice Gray's judgment, I will pass over it. I have, however, prepared a separate paper on it which I will be happy to submit to the Appeal Court if necessary.

Rudolf 's affidavit is not only a misrepresentation of Loftus's argument. It is also irrelevant in relation to the particular parts of Mr. Justice Gray's judgment that are being appealed (13.74 and 13.77). In order to avoid the problem of having to deal with thirty-five year old memories, or for that matter five-year old memories, I selected the eyewitnesses discussed in my expert report and included in Mr. Justice Gray's judgment precisely because they gave their testimony either during or shortly after the war, and independently from each other. For that reason I did not rely on, for example, Filip Müller. Mr. Justice Gray was aware of this, and recorded in 13.77 that "there is no evidence of cross-pollination having occurred."

After having presented, on the basis of a misrepresentation of Loftus's work, a general theory of why eye witnesses of the Holocaust cannot be trusted, Rudolf proceeds to provide an essay in which he argues that testimony and confessions obtained during the allied war crimes trials cannot be trusted. Given the approach I adopted to eyewitness testimony in my report for the trial as set out in the preceding paragraph, I see no purpose in engaging with Rudolf's observations in this area (which is not to say that I accept their validity, merely that they appear to me to have little or no relevance to the issue arising from Mr. Justice Gray's judgment). In the result, I shall deal only with the criticisms, such as they are, which Rudolf has to make of the testimony upon I relied in my report and which was, expressly or by implication, accepted in whole or in part by the judge.

Rudolf's essay refers to item 13.77 of Mr. Justice Gray's Judgment.

13.77 Whilst I acknowledge that the reliability of the eye-witness evidence is variable, what is to me striking about that category of evidence is the similarity of the accounts and the extent to which they are consistent with the documentary evidence. The account of, for example, Tauber, is so clear and detailed that, in my judgement, no objective historian would dismiss it as invention unless there were powerful reasons for doing so. Tauber's account is corroborated by and corroborative of the accounts given by others such as Jankowski and Dragon. Their descriptions marry up with Olere's drawings. The evidence of other eye-witnesses, such as Höss and Broad, would in my view appear credible to a dispassionate student of Auschwitz. There is no evidence of cross-pollination having occurred. It is in the circumstances an unlikely explanation for the broad similarity of the accounts in this category.

Of the witnesses mentioned in section 13.77 of Mr. Justice Gray's Judgment, only Rudolf Höss and Pery Broad were tried, the first in Poland in 1946-47, the latter in Frankfurt in 1963-65. Broad, however, gave his testimony voluntarily in May 1945 while in a prisoner of war camp. He was arrested only 14 years later (April 30, 1959) to face trial in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial. (He was released on bail in December 1960, and remained free on bail until November 1964) Hence, whatever may have happened in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, it is irrelevant in regard to his testimony of 1945. In my expert report I used Broad's 1945 testimony, and this was what Mr. Justice Gray referred to in his Judgment.

Rudolf Höss stood trial in Poland in 1946-47. The only place where the Rudolf affidavit deals with the Polish trials is on lines 8 to 11 on p. 66 and in footnote 111. These passages do not provide a substantial challenge to the 25 pages of information I gave in my expert report on the testimony given by Höss in Poland before, during and after his trial (pp. 307-332). Neither does it challenge the picture of judicial professionalism that arises in the 49 pages I devoted to the forensic work in Auschwitz done by Polish judge Jan Sehn in 1945 and 1946 (pp. 168-217).

As to the testimony of Tauber, Jankowski, Dragon, and the drawings of Olere, the bulk of Rudolf's section on the post-war trials (pp. 46-169) is irrelevant because they did not give their testimony in those trials, but gave their testimony in Sehn's forensic investigations. If Rudolf would have submitted an essay attacking the quality of Sehn's methods of forensic investigation and/or his conclusions, he could have had a point. Having ignored Sehn's forensic work totally, pp. 46-169 of Rudolf's affidavit is irrelevant. The only other pages of Rudolf's section on the post-war trials that need to be discussed can be found on pp. 169-173. Rudolf asserts that a number of statements made by eyewitnesses are mistaken, absurd and/or technically impossible, and as a general introduction to his list of impossible claims, he summarizes his argument in one paragraph (pp. 169-170).

The crematory ovens installed in Birkenau could cremate one corpse in roughly one hour and needed for it roughly 20-30 kg of coke. Due to the size of the muffles installed not more that two or three corpses could be put in them. Moreover, multi-corps [sic] incineration result in a drastic reduction of efficiency (i.e. in an massive increase of coke consumption) and only little advantage in speed increase compared to several consecutive single corpse incinerations, so nobody does this. Only during the ignition phase of a fire, do crematoria develop smoke, but not during normal operation, nor do they develop any stench. Flames never come out of a crematorium chimney. It is impossible to start a cremation by igniting a fire in the ashes room underneath a corpse, as this would revert the flow of hot gases. Furthermore, it is impossible to collect fat from cremating bodies, since hot fat catches fire immediately. The high ground water table in Birkenau required special techniques to build cellars, and it would certainly have prevented any cremations in deep ditches, since they would have filled with water. Open air cremations cannot be done with liquids, as liquids do not burn under objects, but only beside and on top of them.

I note that most of these statements go back to Mattogno's work in general, and the specific reference to the book Rudolf edited under the alias of Dr. Ernst Gauss in 1994. Rudolf also refers to the work of the Swiss Holocaust denier Jürgen Graf, who in the first half of the 1990s developed a body of work claiming that the statements by eyewitnesses were contrary to "the laws of nature," and hence false. And finally I refer to the fourth section, "Eyewitness testimony: a critical overview," in Ernst Gauss (alias Rudolf alias Rudolf)'s Vorlesungen über Zeitgeschichte, published in 1993 This is not new evidence, insofar as it counts as evidence.

Rudolf makes these assertions without providing any justification, and without any reference to either my expert report, the transcript of the Irving-Penguin trial, or Mr. Justice Gray's judgment. As such, I do not think that they need be taken seriously. Yet, for the record, I will try to concisely respond to the issues raised, sentence by sentence. Before I address Rudolf's statements, a general remark is appropriate. One of the remarkable elements of Holocaust denial is the dogmatic certainty with which its adherents declare that all kind of events, witnessed by many, are physically "impossible," and that therefore the eyewitnesses are either liars or fit for a mental asylum. By invoking the "unchangeable laws of nature" and repeating the word "impossible" over and over again, they try to shift the burden of proof on the eyewitnesses.

So let us turn to his catalogue of "impossible" things. . . .

The crematory ovens installed in Birkenau could cremate one corpse in roughly one hour and needed for it roughly 20-30 kg of coke.

Thus Rudolf seeks to destroy the credibility of Sonderkommando Henryk Tauber, who claimed that many more corpses were cremated per hour. Indirectly he also seeks to discredit an SS document from June 28, 1943, which states that the daily incineration capacity of crematoria 2-5, with their 46 muffles, was a total of 4,416. The premise of this document assumes that one muffle could burn 96 corpses per day, which is four times the figure allowed by Rudolf, but fully in accordance with the testimony given by Tauber in May 1945. I note that Rudolf does not suggest that Tauber was shown this document before he described his own experiences, and I do not know of any evidence that he was.

There is very little evidence left about the operation of the crematoria. I deal with this in my response to Rudolf's section "I. The Central Construction Office and Himmler's dismantling Order," which follows this section. In this section I will refer to the work of John Zimmerman, who convincingly argues that it is clear that the Germans systematically destroyed evidence about the functioning of the Auschwitz crematoria. Yet some fragments survive. One document is a timesheet of the crematorium of the sub-camp of the concentration camp Mauthausen in Gusen. This sub-camp was equipped with a Topf two-muffle incinerator, not much different from the incinerators in Auschwitz crematorium 1, which were of a smaller size and capacity than the incinerators built in Birkenau. The Gusen timesheet proves that much faster cremation was achieved: in 19 and three quarter hours the Gusen incinerator cremated 94 corpses in two muffles, or 47 corpses per muffle. This means that it took an average 25.2 minutes per corpse. It must be remembered that Gusen was a camp that only contained male prisoners, and thus the corpses were of adult males only, the hardest category to cremate. In Auschwitz-Birkenau there were many infants, children, and females among the victims - in fact, they were the majority of the victims gassed and cremated. Second of all it must be remembered that the Gusen ovens were not only considerably smaller, but also less sophisticated than those built in Birkenau. It is very unlikely that the more advanced Topf ovens in Birkenau would have achieved a slower incineration rate.

Trying to establish the premise of Rudolf's unfounded assertion, it seems that he goes back to standard cremation practice in Germany and elsewhere, which stipulates that there should be no co-mingling bodies (so as to ensure individual identification of the ashes), and which also stipulates that the body should be fully cremated without any interference whatsoever. Such niceties were not observed in Auschwitz. A Topf instruction manual for the Auschwitz ovens provides the following information.

As soon as the remains of the corpses have fallen from the chamotte grid to the ash collection channel below, they should be pulled forward towards the ash removal door, using the scraper. Here they can be left for a further 20 minutes to be fully consumed, then the ashes should be placed in the container and set aside to cool. In the meantime, further corpses can be introduced one after the other into the chambers. 58

One of the main reasons for this practice of introducing a second corpse into an oven halfway during the cremation of the first one was the fact that it saved on coke. Furthermore, during a normal cremation much energy is spent on the breaking down and whitening of the bones. In an interview published in 1996, the director of the firm B&L, manufacturers of cremation ovens, explained "much of the burn time is devoted to breaking down and whitening the bones, because people expect nice white remains." 59

This brings us to the second part of Rudolf's assertion: that the incineration of every corpse used between 20-30 kg of coke. I will come back to this in my comments on Rudolf's section Q, "Coke Consumption and Crematory Capacity." But it is important to note here, first of all, that Rudolf raises the issue of coke consumption to undermine the credibility of the eyewitness testimony of Henry Tauber, who stated in 1945 that once the ovens were heated and going, the coke consumption per corpse dropped dramatically.

As I have already said, there were five furnaces in crematorium 2, each with three muffles for cremating the corpses and heated by two coke-fired hearths. The fire flues of these hearths came out above the ash boxes of the two side muffles. Thus the flames went first round the two side muffles then heated the centre one, from where the combustion gases were led out below the furnace, between the two firing hearths. Thanks to this arrangement, the incineration process for the corpses in the side muffles differed from that of the centre muffle. The corpses of "Müselmanns" or of wasted people with no fat burned rapidly in the side muffles and slowly in the centre one. Conversely, the corpses of people gassed directly on arrival, not being wasted, burned better in the centre muffle. During the incineration of such corpses, we used the coke only to light the fire of the furnace initially, for fatty corpses burned of their own accord thanks to the combustion of the body fat. On occasion, when coke was in short supply, we would put some straw and wood in the ash bins under the muffles, and once the fat of the corpse began to burn the other corpses would catch light themselves.

This, so Rudolf claims, is "impossible." But if my discussion in my response to section Q deals with the fact that coke use is not necessarily 30 kg of coke per corpse, and that German documents suggest it could have been as low as 3 or 4 kg of coke per corpse, it is important to note here also that coke was not the only fuel used. Tauber also mentions straw and wood. The use of wood is confirmed by the fact that labor deployment reports made up in the summer of 1944 list 30 "wood loaders" in the crematoria.

Perhaps most important when considering the coke supply to Auschwitz is to remember that in the periods that killing came to a climax large open-air pyres were used to cremate corpses. This means that, even if the false limitation Rudolf is imputing to the ovens were to be correct - and it is not - it is of little significance because open air burnings were, when required, a major means body disposal in Auschwitz.

Let us go to the next sentence of Rudolf's unsubstantiated assertion:

Due to the size of the muffles installed not more that two or three corpses could be put in them.

Once again, Rudolf's statement seeks to destroy the credibility of Sonderkommando Henryk Tauber, who claimed that up to eight corpses could be put in every muffle.

The dimensions of the door and the opening of the muffles were smaller than the inside of the muffle itself, which was 2 meters long, 80 centimeters wide and about 1 meter high. Generally speaking, we burned 4 or 5 corpses at a time in one muffle, but sometimes we charged a greater number of corpses. It was possible to charge up to 8 "Müselmanns."

Rudolf would probably be right when talking about regular size men, but we must remember that the main group of victims in Auschwitz were women and children, and the totally emaciated inmates known as "Muslims" or "Müselmanns." These people weighed an average of 30 to 35 kilos - that is less than half the weight of a normal individual.

Rudolf has this to say about the multi-corpse incineration alleged by Tauber.

Moreover, multi-corps [sic] incineration result in a drastic reduction of efficiency (i.e. in an massive increase of coke consumption) and only little advantage in speed increase compared to several consecutive single corpse incineration, so nobody does this.

If this were true, one would wonder why a number of California crematoria adopted the illegal practice of cremating up to 15 bodies in one oven. Dr. Kenneth V. Iserson records the following in his standard work on the question what of happens to dead bodies, Death To Dust (1994).

The Harbor Lawn-Mount Olive Mortuary and Memorial Park in Costa Mesa, California, paid $14 million to settle a suit by 25,000 people who claimed that their relative's bodies have been cremated en masse, rather then separately. Another southern California firm, the Pasadena Crematorium, which was luridly described in the book, A Family Business, routinely packed nine to fifteen bodies into each oven, which was about the size of the interior of a typical American sedan. . . . Other California crematoria have been known to have routinely performed "multiple cremations," in which two or more bodies were cremated at once to increase cost efficiency. One settlement of more than $ 10 million involved a California funeral home that was alleged to have "mishandled, mutilated, commingled, multiply cremated and otherwise disrespectfully, improperly, and illegally cremated the remains of the decedents entrusted to them" during a seven year period. 60

The reason that multiple corpse cremations are not done is because it is illegal, not because it is inefficient. Laws governing cremation stipulate, for obvious reasons, that corpses have to be fully cremated and the ashes separated from the oven before a new body can be added.

The next of Rudolf's assertions concerns the question if the crematoria chimneys smoked. Many eyewitnesses claimed that the smoke was visible, but Rudolf claims the opposite.

Only during the ignition phase of a fire, do crematoria develop smoke, but not during normal operation.

In other words, the eyewitness are liars. But is Rudolf right? First of all let us mention some anecdotal evidence. The report of the first cremation undertaken in the United States on October 16, 1879, which was reported in the Chicago Tribune a day later, noted the following:

At 10 o'clock the body was taken out of the coffin and placed upon the crib. At 10:30 the door of the retorts was opened. The body, covered with a sheet which had been saturated with alum-water, was thrust in and the door closed. In a few seconds a dense volume of black smoke rose from the chimney, and the odor of burning flesh greeted the olfactories of the few persons who remained outside.  61

The black smoke emanating from crematoria chimneys remained a real problem, if only because it did not support the propaganda by the advocates of creation that it was a clean way to dispose of corpses. In 1912 Lawrence Moore, who had been appointed as manager of the California Crematorium in Oakland, California, toured with his wife all over the United States to visit crematoria with a view to improve operation. In 1940 he recalled in a lecture given for the annual meeting of the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents the situation he encountered.

The impressions gained at that time are still vividly clear to both of us. Nearly all crematories were characterized by spectacular high smokestacks, black smoke, furnaces red hot to receive caskets and bodies . . . No loveliness, no charm were anywhere, we thought.

Our own crematorium had a 75 ft. iron smokestack, and smoke and noise like all the rest. 62

In the years that followed, Moore and other crematorium managers worked hard to get rid of the smoke. In 1928 Walter E. Londelius, the superintendent of the Forest Lawn crematorium in Los Angeles, California, reported in the annual meeting of the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents:

Forced by public opinion, crematory engineers are constantly trying to make cremation less offensive: to reduce the noise, control the smoke and fire indirectly upon the body. Experiments are constantly being made with every grade of tile, brick and cement, with every sort of fuel and all mechanical details of cremation. 63

A year later Moore reported to the same organization that one of the major reasons for the production of smoke was a combination of the fuel used and the practice to preheat the furnace.

The earliest crematoriums all followed one general method. With coal or coke or wood, they heated a chamber to incandescence, then introduced the body, either in casket or on a slab, and reduced it to its mineral elements by radiant heat. The principal exterior evidences of this system were a very high stack, lots of smoke, a delivery of tons or cords of fuel. The interior evidences were the sound of shoveling, the roar of burning, and blowers, and the white-heated furnace. One had to be a 100% cremationist in those days, to face all these horrors. 64

Moore admitted that, in 1929, the ideal crematorium that produced no smoke was still an ideal. He did counsel his colleagues not to try to incinerate corpses too fast:

Duration of cremation. There is a record I think of twenty-five minutes. To me it is better to take a little longer and not make so much noise and smoke. The men that run the fastest make the most noise and smoke, so far as I know. 65

In the 1930s the practice developed not to preheat the oven. When the corpse was placed in a cold oven, and the furnace was fired afterwards, smoke was significantly reduced. By 1940 some 22 crematoria in the United States had adopted this principle. Also the move from coal or coke to oil and gas had improved matters greatly. And then the inclusion of afterburners and air-pollution control scrubbers did the rest to prevent smoke.

Yet even with the best technology, smoking can occur, as Dr. Iserson has noted in his Death to Dust.

Yet obese bodies still emit heavy black smoke and flames when cremated. 66

One factor that affects smoking is maintenance. For example, the West Terrace crematorium in Adelaide, South Australia, operated for many years without a problem, but it became a public nuisance in the 1950s when it began to emit heavy smoke. On November 3, 1953 it became an issue in the House of Assembly of South Australia when the representative for that riding, Samuel Lawn, brought attention to the problem.

When called into use, the outmoded crematorium belches smoke over grief-stricken mourners in the cemetery grounds and over nearby parts of the city. . . . Often heavy smoke persists for an hour after cremation. . . . On one occasion during the past week . . . the traffic on West Terrace was passing through clouds of smoke. 67

If all the eyewitnesses who saw smoke belching from the Auschwitz crematoria must have lied because this is physically impossible, they are at least in the august company of the managers of the crematoria in Oakland and Los Angeles, and one member of the House of Assembly of South Australia, and probably some of his constituents.

For the record, Dr. Iserson has this to say about the subject of smoke in his Death to Dust.

Complete combustion also needs air. Smoke from incomplete combustion in a crematorium can be greatly reduced if an adequate amount of air is added to the burning mixture. Yet obese bodies still emit heavy black smoke and flames when cremated. The exact amount of air required depends on the state of the body, the components of the coffin, and the temperature at which the crematorium is operated. All new crematories are built with afterburners and scrubbers to prevent air pollution. All of these factors affect cremation time. 68

If we look at the Auschwitz crematoria, it is very likely that they would have smoked. First of all, the Topf ovens which had been designed for oil (which would have been relatively smokeless) had been modified for coke use in 1940, as oil was in short supply in the German war economy. Then the ovens of the Auschwitz crematoria were pre-heated before the corpses were introduced. Furthermore those who operated the crematoria did their best to shorten the incineration time as much as possible. Then these crematoria were not supplied with either afterburners or air pollution control scrubbers. Finally the furnaces were intensively operated with what seems to have been little regard for maintenance.

The next of Rudolf's unfounded assertions again seeks to unmask the eyewitnesses as liars.

Flames never come out of a crematorium chimney.

This is of course nonsense. The flames could also have been the result of a normal chimney fire, caused by the built-up creosote in the chimney. Creosote is condensed particles of smoke that stick to the inner wall of the chimney. Condensation of the unburned by-products of combustion also occurs more rapidly in an exterior chimney, for example, than in a chimney that runs through the center of a house and exposes only the upper reaches of the flue to the elements. Creosote is highly combustible, and can result in a long, hot, destructive chimney fire. The documented problems that occurred with the Auschwitz chimneys - cracking, collapse of liners - suggest that there were chimney fires which undoubtedly resulted from poor maintenance.

Furthermore, it seems that in the cremation industry there is a name for the phenomenon of fire coming from the chimney - one that civilian crematorium operators try to avoid at all cost, of course. It is called "the candle." 69 Again in an effort to discredit Tauber, Rudolf introduces an argument without any evidence:

It is impossible to start a cremation by igniting a fire in the ashes room underneath a corpse, as this would revert the flow of hot gases.

The reason why this would be apparently "impossible" is because it "reverts the flow of hot gases." What does this mean? Why is this impossible? Rudolf does not tell us.

The next sentence of Rudolf's statement seeks to destroy , once again, the credibility of Tauber.

Furthermore, it is impossible to collect fat from cremating bodies, since hot fat catches fire immediately.

Rudolf does not explain the basis for this assertion. In general terms it does not square with one's experience of the ordinary domestic kitchen.

An old argument which Rudolf introduced as early as 1992 is the claim that the watertable in Birkenau did not allow for incineration pits.

The high ground water table in Birkenau required special techniques to build cellars, and it would certainly have prevented any cremations in deep ditches, since they would have filled with water.

The problem in Birkenau is not so much that it has a high water table, which it has not, but that it has severe drainage problems. When it rains, the water does not sink into the soil, as Birkenau is located on a large sheet of impenetrable marl. From 1940 onwards, the Germans spent an incredible amount of effort, largely with inmate labor, to improve the drainage in Birkenau and its surroundings. The deep drainage ditches that can be seen everywhere are the result. However if one can keep rainwater out of lower areas, they do not fill up with water. When it does not rain in Birkenau, the very deep drainage ditches are all dry.

The next claim by Rudolf tries to discredit the eyewitness evidence given by Filip Müller, who claimed that the Sonderkommandos poured gasoline and other liquids on the incineration pyres.

Open air cremations cannot be done with liquids, as liquids do not burn under objects, but only beside and on top of them.

Perhaps it is best to respond to this allegation by quoting from David Irving's The Destruction of Dresden (p. 278)

The Steel girders had been winched out of the ruins of the Renner department store on the Altmarkt and these had been laid across crudely collected piles of sandstone blocks. A gigantic grill over twenty-feet long was being erected. Under the steel girders and bars were poked bundles of wood and straw. On top of the grill were heaped the corpses, four or five hundred at a time, with more straw between each layer. The soldiers trampled up and down on top of this rotting heap, straightening the victims, trying to make room for more, and carefully building the stack. Many of the dead children sandwiched into these terrible pyres were still wearing the colourful carnival clothes that they had donned so eagerly two weeks before. Finally gallons of gasoline, sorely needed though it was throughout the whole Reich, were poured over the stacks of victims. A senior officer cleared the Altmarkt square of all unnecessary by-standers, and set a match to the heap.

I presume that if it is possible to conduct open-air burning with flammable liquids in Dresden it should be possible to do so in Auschwitz. Indeed, Irving's colourful description of the pyre on the Altmarkt is perfectly credible to anyone who has ever made a bonfire or barbecue in the open air.

So far my attempt to give a reasoned response to Rudolf's unsubstantiated allegations. It is important to note that the 46 "absurd claims" listed on pp. 160-167 of Rudolf's affidavit are irrelevant to the case, as I did not make any such claims in my expert report. As to Rudolf's attempt to attack the credibility of Tauber, Dragon and Olere (pp 170ff.), my responses given to the statements analyzed above should suffice. A few extra remarks can be made on his attempt to discredit Jankowski, Höss and Broad.

Rudolf seems to have a point when he states that Jankowski's statement on the capacity of the incinerators in the crematorium of Auschwitz I is technologically impossible. With him, I do not believe that "12 corpses could be put into one opening." 70 Yet I do not think that one should give too much weight to Jankowski's mistaken assessment of the capacity of the incinerators. The great value of his testimony is to be found in his description of events, and not in his speculations on incineration capacity. Jankowski's description of the events is corroborated by other testimonies, including his account of the use of the morgue of crematorium 1 as a place of execution by gun. Pery Broad described in detail how this procedure evolved in the period before the transformation of that morgue into a gas chamber, and like Jankowski he stresses that the use of the morgue as an execution place applied to people who had been brought by the Gestapo Summary Court of Kattowitz from outside the camp to Auschwitz for the purpose of execution. 71 Contrary to Rudolf's claim, Jankowski did not state that machine pistols were used for these executions. He only specified the use of "guns." Broad was more specific: he stated that the condemned were killed with "a practised shot in the neck."  72 This seems to indicate the use of an ordinary pistol.

Rudolf attacks the credibility of Kommandant Höss by means of six challenges. First of all he states that Höss claimed to have visited Belzec and Treblinka in the summer of 1941, when these camps did not yet exist. Anyone who has studied Höss's confessions knows that he showed some confusion about the dates when various events occurred, most importantly that in regards to some events he mentioned the year 1941 when he obviously meant 1942. As dates are purely conventional, most if not all people have to think carefully when they are asked to date an event which is not marked by regular returning anniversaries, and many people make mistakes. What is important is that Höss gave a quite detailed description of the killing procedure in Treblinka that is corroborated by other sources, such as the later confessions by Treblinka Kommandant Franz Stangl.

Rudolf also attacks Höss's credibility because he mentioned an extermination camp named "Wolzek." This camp never existed. For Holocaust deniers this error has been one of the main proofs that Höss can not be trusted at all. In my book, I identified "Wolzek" with Sobibor. 73 This led David Irving to ask in his open letter to me, posted on the web in 1997: "What incidentally is your authority for confidently equating Höss's mysterious location "Wolzek" with [Sobibor]" (page 279); as you know, Höss's 'Wolzek' has long intrigued revisionists." 74

In an article that he posted on the web-site of the Holocaust History Project, Jamie McCarthy explained what he labeled as "The Wolzek Paradox." McCarthy advised those intrigued by the problem to look at a map.

Before Höss gave his statement to the court, quoted above, he was interrogated at length, over two days. The transcript of those interrogations is published in The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes, John Mendelson, Ed., 1982, Vol. 12, pp. 56-127. On p. 75, we see Höss's answers during the interrogation, which of course took place before his court statement. He was asked:

Q. "What were these extermination camps? Where were they, and what were their names?"

His response was - and this is verbatim, including the spelling mistake of the court reporter:

A. "There were three camps: first Treblinka, Belzak near Lemberg and the third one was 40 kilometers in the direction of Kulm. It was past Kulm in an easterly direction."

Note that, despite being explicitly asked for the names of all three, Höss can only come up with two. "Treblinka" is spelled correctly by the transcriber. "Belzak" is Belzec. The missing camp, whose name Höss has forgotten, is - as van Pelt has already pointed out - Sobibor.

Does Sobibor's location fit with the one detail Höss gives? He claims it is 40 km "past Kulm in an easterly direction." The town of Chelm (Kulm, in the German spelling) is bisected by a railway line that runs west toward Lublin and east into the Soviet Union. Forty kilometers east of Chelm is nothing in particular, or at least no known death camps.

But he did not say it was due east; he said "in an easterly direction." Coming out of the town, near the city limits, a railway splits off and heads northeast. Exactly forty kilometers as traveled by rail lies the death camp Sobibor.

Höss, though he forgot the name and later gave the wrong name, did have an idea of where the third camp was. His directions were not perfect, but then he was not asked to give directions. [. . . ] The reader may judge which rival hypothesis best fits the facts:

* Höss was inventing details under torture and just happened to place a fictitious death camp in exactly the same location as the real, omitted Reinhard death camp, or

* he just got its name wrong.

The choice is obvious.

Why do Holocaust-deniers rush to embrace the wrong choice? The answer is left as an exercise for the reader.

And why did Höss think the camp was named "Wolzek"? That's a mystery whose answer may never be known. But considering that his job was to run the Auschwitz camp, three hundred kilometers away; that the extermination program was always kept under strictest secrecy; and that the surrounding territory had been conquered and thus bore names in both his native tongue and Polish: a misunderstanding is surely not out of the question. 75

The next attack on Höss's credibility concerns his statement that 2.5 million people would have died in Auschwitz under his command, while the now accepted victim total is somewhere in the range of 1 to 1.2 million people. In my expert report I dealt with this issue at various places. My statement on p. 57 summarizes it as follows:

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

The figure of 2.5 million was not of Höss's own making, but in an autobiographical document he wrote in Nuremberg on instigation of prison psychologist Dr. Gilbert he stated that it came from Eichmann.

On the basis of the figure of 2.5 million, which is the number of people who - according to Eichmann - were brought to Auschwitz for extermination, it may be said that on average, two transports arrived daily, with a combined total of 4,000 persons, of whom twenty-five per cent were fit for work, the balance of 3,000 were to be exterminated. The intervals in the various operations can be computed together at nine months. Thus there remain 27 months, with 90,000 people each month - a total of 2,430,000 people. This is a calculation of the technical potential. I have to keep to the figure mentioned by Eichmann, for he was the only SS officer who was allowed to keep records concerning these liquidation operations, according to the orders of the Reichsführer-SS. All other units which took part in any way had to destroy all records immediately. Eichmann mentioned this number in my presence when he was called upon, in April 1945, to present a report to the Reichsführer-SS. I had no records whatsoever. But, to the best of my knowledge, this number appears to me much too high. If I calculate the total of the mass operations which I still remember, and still make allowance for a certain percentage of error, I arrive, in my calculation, at a total of 1.5 million at the most for the period from the beginning of 1941 to the end of 1944. But these are my computations which I cannot verify.

Nuremberg, 24 April 1946 (Signed) Rudolf Hös;s
(At the bottom of the document): Hungary - 400,000; Slovakia - 90,000; Greece - 65,000; Holland - 90,000; France - 110,000; Belgium - 20,000; the region of the Generalgouvernement and Upper Silesia - 250,000; Germany and Terezin - 100,000. Total - 1,125,000.

Rudolf completely suppresses Höss's own doubts about the validity of the 2.5 million figure, and thus misrepresents the evidence. In fact, reading the way Höss dealt with the issue of the number of victims reveals that he honestly tried to address the question. Contrary to Rudolf's assertion, it reveals Höss as an honest and reliable witness.

For Rudolf's attack on Höss's credibility because of his statements concerning the open-air burnings I refer to my remarks above.

Finally there is Rudolf's assertion that Höss would have testified that there was "eating and smoking in the gas chamber immediately after the gassings had stopped" - the eating and smoking would have been that of the Sonderkommandos, of course. This is an old allegation, that goes back to Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. In my expert report I dealt with this at length, and showed that Faurisson misrepresented the evidence (expert report, pp. 464f.) For the ease of the court, I will quote here an extract from my analysis of Faurisson's attempt to discredit Höss.;

For example, he juxtaposed the following two of Höss's statements. "The door was opened a half an hour after the gas was thrown in and the ventilation system was turned on. Work was immediately started to remove the corpses." Closely reading this passage, Faurisson noted the adverb "immediately." In other words, work began immediately when the ventilation began, that means when the room was still highly toxic. This was very dangerous. It was evident, Faurisson argued, that the Sonderkommando only could have entered the space equipped with gas masks. The second statement by Höss seemed, however, to preclude this. "They dragged the bodies from the gas chambers, removed the gold teeth, cut off the hair, then dragged the bodies to the pits or to the ovens. On top of that, they had to maintain the fires in the pits, pour off the accumulated fat, and poke holes into the burning mountain of bodies, so that more oxygen could enter. All these jobs they performed with an indifferent coolness, just as if this was an everyday affair. While dragging the bodies, they ate or smoked. Even the gruesome job of burning the bodies dug up after being in mass graves for a long time did not prevent them from eating." Faurisson observed that Höss saw the Sonderkommando dragging bodies while eating and smoking, they were obviously not wearing gas masks - probably because of their "indifferent coolness." In short, there was an inexplicable contradiction between the extreme toxicity of the gas chamber and the behavior of the Sonderkommandos. Adding to the collection the official instruction manual of Zyklon B, which stipulated that spaces that had been fumigated with the agent should air out for at least 20 hours, Faurisson came to the conclusion that Höss obviously did not know what he was writing about, and that his testimony was worthless. Yet on examination, it is clear that his "Ajax Method" did not do the texts justice. The second quotation taken from Höss occurs in the middle of a paragraph that deals with the "strange" behavior of the Sonderkommando. It did not discuss the extermination procedure in any logical order. When Höss mentions that the Sonderkommando ate or smoked while dragging bodies, he did not say "while dragging bodies from the gas chambers." In fact, there was a lot of body-dragging in Auschwitz: in crematoria 2 and 3 bodies were dragged within the incineration halls from the elevator doors to the ovens, in crematoria 4 and 5, bodies were dragged not only from the gas chambers to the morgue, but also from the morgue to the incineration room, and in the case of the open air burning of the buried corpses in the late summer and fall of 1942, bodies were dragged from the opened mass graves to the incineration pits. At no time did the Sonderkommando need a gas mask for this awful job. Likewise Faurisson misrepresented the Zyklon B instruction manual. The rule for spaces to be aired for 20 hours applies to rooms without any special ventilation system. After 20 hours of natural ventilation, and another hour with closed windows and doors, the room should be available for all activities except sleeping: this should wait another day. The situation in the gas chambers was different. With its powerful ventilation system, and with the fact that most of the hydrogen cyanide was absorbed by the victims' bodies, the time could be reduced to 20 minutes.

Rudolf's attempt to discredit Höss's eyewitness evidence fails. As to Pery Broad's credibility: it seems true that Broad exaggerated the capacity of the gas chambers of crematoria 2 and 3 when he stated that "in each of them 4,000 people could be killed at the same time." It is also possible that this figure was the result of a mistake, as the two gas chambers could accommodate, if necessary, 4,000 people together (many of those killed in the gas chambers were children). Exaggeration or mistake, the fact that Broad's assertion on the capacity of the gas chambers is not supported by the evidence does not mean that the rest of his statement concerning the killing is wrong - and Rudolf does not challenge it.

In conclusion, for all his effort to discredit the witnesses, Rudolf's arguments have had the opposite effect in providing another opportunity to consider the general veracity and reliability of eye-witness testimony.


Last modified:June 9, 2002
Technical/administrative contact: webmaster@holocaust-history.org