The Holocaust Historiography Project

Chapter 1: Background

The Context of European and Nazi Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism has been part of European history perhaps as early as Alexander’s Empire in the 4th Century B.C.E. What has varied over the centuries since then has been the intensity of the animosity towards Jews, as well as the basis for it, whether it was grounded in political, religious, cultural, or ethnic differences. The early Roman emperors generally had a difficult relationship with Jews in the Empire. There was a major problem over the ritual of emperor worship, which Jews refused to perform. Imperial adjudication was required to settle disputes between Jewish and Gentile communities in such cities as Alexandria and Rome. After Constantine’s reign (337 C.E.), the Christian emperors and church leaders placed administrative and legal restrictions on the Jewish population of the Roman Empire, although, for religious reasons, Jews were tolerated.1

In early Medieval Europe there was popular hostility against Jews, but it was unsystematic and was charged with a clearly religious tone — more anti-Judaic than anti-Semitic. This attitude changed, though, in the 11th and 12th centuries when the zeal and intolerance of the Crusades spawned more virulent and violent anti-Semitic atrocities. During the First Crusade in 1096, Jewish communities, mostly in the Rhineland, were plundered and their inhabitants sometimes massacred by crusader armies on their way to the Holy Land. The following two centuries saw the growth of official policies that established ghettoes, discriminatory laws, and financial victimization. In 1215 the Catholic Church’s Fourth Lateran Council prescribed absolute ghettoization for urban Jewish communities and decreed that Jews wear a yellow label as a sign of their pariah status.2

The religious wars of the reformation only brought more massacres and mistreatment for the Jews, especially in Germany. It was not until the Enlightenment and the French Revolution that conditions ameliorated somewhat when civil rights and citizenship were granted Jews. But in the latter part of the nineteenth century, anti-Semitism resurged throughout Europe. The centuries-old religiously based anti-Semitism continued to attract adherents. This old version was joined by a new strain that grew out the nationalistic fervor that dominated European politics well into the twentieth century. It was based on pseudo-scientific social and biological theories of racial differences that emphasized cultural, ethnic, and stereotyped physical differences. In some nationalist lexicons, Jews were now classified as members of the Semite “race.”

The racial core of Nazi ideology was obvious from the earliest days of the movement in Munich. Early proponents of Nazism also hinted at the future destruction of Jewry. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, some anti-Semitic measures were adapted, but the initial policy was relatively unstructured. This changed in September 1935, when Hitler announced the passage of the Nuremberg Laws that, among others, prohibited relations and marriages between Jews and other Germans, forbade Jews to fly the German flag, and deprived them of citizenship. In later years during the war, American intercepts of German consular radio and cable traffic recorded how the effect of these laws was extended to overseas German Jews. These intercepts reported incidents in which individuals as far away as Argentina and China were deprived of German citizenship because their Jewish parentage or denied state pensions unless a Jewish spouse was divorced.3

In the first years of the Nazi regime, the principal method for removing Jews from Germany was emigration. To “encourage” Jews to leave, the Nazis instituted a number of discriminatory measures that included the “aryanization” of the German economy, and, after the Anschluss with Austria, the placement of the mandatory “J” stamp in German passports held by Jews. By the beginning of the war, more than half of German and Austrian Jews had emigrated abroad. Some aspects of the early Jewish emigration from Germany appeared in the occasional Japanese diplomatic message from Berlin intercepted by the United States.4

In 1939, for European Jewry, two important events occurred that pushed their fate in the direction of the “Final Solution.” The first was in January 1939, when the control of anti-Semitic policy in Germany was delegated to the SS (Schutz Staffel). Operational control was placed specifically in the SS’s Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA) under SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich controlled all Reich security services, including the Security Service (Sicherstheitsdienst or SD) and the Gestapo (Geheime Staats Polizei or Secret State Police). Later, Adolf Eichmann was placed in charge of Department IVA4b of the RSHA, which was responsible for administering the “Jewish problem.”

The second occurred in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. England and France, honoring a defense pact with Poland, declared war on Nazi Germany. With these actions, the Second World War began, and the fate of European Jewry was changed for the worse. The war ended Germany’s original plan to rid itself of its Jewish population through emigration and expulsion. As more countries fell under its sway, the number of Jews under Nazi control grew dramatically. The early policy of enforced expulsion was useless; there was nowhere to send them, even to the colonies of the nations they had conquered as with the bizarre scheme to create a Jewish reservation on the French-held island of Madagascar off the Southeast African coast.

When exactly the mass murder of the Jews was ordered as policy is not absolutely certain. In late July 1941 Reich Marshall Herman Goering signed the order that Heydrich had drafted calling for a “final solution” (Endloesung) to the Jewish presence in German-occupied Europe. Two things about this order are significant. First, it was signed after massacres of Jews and other groups in Russia had begun in the wake of the German invasion. Second, this order also needs to be understood as part of Hitler’s position regarding Jews and their association with Bolshevism. In January 1939 Hitler had threatened the Jews with annihilation, but he made this threat within the context of a potential war, and then as part of the struggle against the “Bolshevikization [sic] of the earth."5 In whatever terms or context it was stated, though, the destruction of Europe’s Jews was a prime Nazi goal during the war.6 During the final phases of the planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union, the SS and the German General Staff approved plans for killing Jews as part of the policy to liquidate all “undesirables,” which included Soviet political, military, and security officials.7 Following on the heels of the victorious Wehrmacht, Einsatzgruppen, along with numerous German Police battalions and SS units, massacred almost three-quarters of a million Soviet Jews in the first ten months of the invasion.

In late 1941 and into early 1942, the decisions and the first steps to exterminate all other European Jews were taken. In January 1942 Heydrich met with senior officials from the SS, the Police, the Foreign Office, the Nazi Party, and Reich Chancellery and Ministry of Justice in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee to map out the campaign of mass murder. As a guide to future plans, Heydrich referred to the earlier order from Goering for the Final Solution he claimed he had drafted. Like the earlier order signed by Goering, the decision at the conference to exterminate Europe’s Jews was taken after several actions already had begun. These included the operations of the first death camp at Chelmo in western Poland that had started already in December 1941. A month earlier, in Kovno, Lithuania, police units began murdering German Jews who had been deported there. And the construction of Auschwitz-Birkenau, begun in December 1941, was accelerated. The time of “night and fog” (Nacht und Nebel) over Nazi-occupied Europe had arrived.

The Holocaust differed in two significant ways from other examples of twentieth-century genocide. First of all, the Nazis did not simply indulge themselves in an orgy of massacres and other atrocities. Instead, to facilitate their policy of extermination, the Nazis borrowed from the panoply of twentieth century science and technology. They adopted techniques, equipment, and processes from engineering and basic sciences such as chemistry. They also adapted modern business methods, technology, and techniques from the fields of accounting, administration, transport, and bureaucratic organization. The Nazi and SS hierarchy took an avid interest in the progress of the extermination and demanded constant reports from subordinates, units in the field, and the death camps. While not always consistent and efficient, the Nazi machine was organized along methods that allowed for measurements of progress and any necessary “improvements” to the existing system.

Secondly, the Nazis moved to eliminate Jews from countries they had overrun during the war. The extranational nature of the Holocaust was the aspect that most differentiated it from other examples of genocide in the twentieth century, such as that perpetrated on ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915-16 and the Khmer Rouge depredations in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. As the Germans conquered Europe, they immediately established the administrative and enforcement machinery to seize and kill Jews living in the occupied countries. In this task various collaborationist regimes and local fascist organizations sympathetic to the Nazis helped the Germans in a number of ways. Some of these regimes murdered their own Jews or shipped them to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Other countries expelled non-national Jews and ethnic groups acquired through territorial acquisition, as happened in Bulgaria, or rounded up foreign Jews and shipped them to their deaths in the east as did France. The continental scope and bureaucratic nature of the extermination program compelled the Nazi apparatus to coordinate its efforts over an extensive region, from the Atlantic to the steppes of the western Soviet Union.

Both of these aspects of the Final Solution forced the Nazis to rely on modern communications to facilitate their efforts — both to satisfy the SS command in Berlin for progress reports and to coordinate their far-flung efforts over the European continent. Where underground cable systems existed, the Nazi authorities made use of them for their communications. The Allies could not monitor the ground cable system in continental Europe. However, the cable system’s reach was limited. Where the local system had been destroyed during combat operations or had not yet been constructed, and this was common in most of the regions of the western USSR, the command in Berlin had to rely on radio communications to control the particular missions of the dispersed police units and Einsatzgruppen, as well as receive reports on their “progress.” Meanwhile, diplomatic missions and nongovernmental organizations around Europe reported on the roundups and massacres they witnessed or about which they had received information. These communications also made it possible for Allied signals intelligence agencies to intercept, exploit, and disseminate information to their leadership about the Holocaust.

Previous Histories and Articles

For nearly thirty years after World War II, the United States and Great Britain generally succeeded in keeping completely secret from the public the story of the exploitation of the German Enigma and many other Axis codes and ciphers.8 This success was largely possible because of the willingness of the tens of thousands of wartime employees of the Western cryptologic services to keep silent about the secret. However, there were a few tears in the shroud over this period.

In 1967 a Polish historian, Wladyslaw Kozaczuk, published an account of the Polish breakthrough against Enigma, Bitwa o tajemnice (The Secret Battle).9 Kozaczuk was the first to state that the Poles had solved the German Enigma. This book, though, received little attention outside of Poland. In 1973 Gustave Bertrand, the former chief of the French Army’s radio intelligence branch, published his memoirs, Enigma: Ou la Plus Grande Enigme de la Guerre, 1939-1945 (Enigma: Or the Greatest Mystery of the War), which revealed some more about the early Allied exploitation of Enigma. 10 Bertrand had played a minor, if not unimportant role in the Polish breakthrough against Enigma. He had developed a contact in the German Ministry of War who turned over to him technical information and keying material for the Enigma. Bertrand, whose own country’s code-breaking capability had deteriorated in the years after the First World War, passed the material to the Polish Cipher Bureau. Like Kozaczuk’s work, Bertrand’s book made little impression. German historians, who had reviewed Kozazcuk’s book, tended to dismiss the claims that the Poles or any of the Allies had broken Enigma. The secret still stood into the 1970s.

Therefore, outside of intelligence circles, only a handful of people, mostly scholars, knew about the Allied cryptanalytic success against Enigma when, in 1974, F.W. Winterbotham’s book The Ultra Secret was published.11 Winterbotham was a Royal Air Force officer who formed the Special Liaison Units that distributed Ultra to military commands. But he was not involved in actual codebreaking and other cryptologic activities. Winterbotham’s book created a shock wave in the intelligence and historical communities. The British government contemplated legal action against him, but finally declined to prosecute him. The Ultra Secret went on to become a best seller. Many historians scrambled, perhaps prematurely, to incorporate Winterbotham’s revelations into the narrative of World War II. Winterbotham’s book, though, was full of errors, distortions, and omissions. Among other things, he attributed the solution to the Enigma to a spy who smuggled a complete machine out of Germany. This ignored the Polish contribution. He also claimed that the British won the Battle of Britain solely because of Ultra’s contribution. This claim ignored the far more critical roles played by Britain’s early warning radar network and Fighter Command’s centralized command and control system.

There was no mention in Winterbotham’s book about what information there might have been about the Holocaust from Ultra sources. Interestingly, prior to the publication of The Ultra Secret, there was some information already available about codebreaking and the Holocaust. The first inkling of what SIGINT records might hold about the Holocaust had appeared in Gustave Bertrand’s Enigma. In the course of describing the operations of a small, multinational, Allied covert communications monitoring site in southern France, Bertrand revealed that this site had intercepted and decrypted German Police messages that contained information about massacres in the western Soviet Union. Bertrand stated that the site, over the course of a little more than two years, had intercepted over three thousand German Police messages. He related the substance of a police message from 21 August 1941 that reported that 5,130 Jews had been shot by SS and police units.12 Most of Bertrand’s story was repeated in Wladyslaw Kozaczuk’s Enigma, published in Polish in 1979.13 The information about the German Police decrypts in the books from France and Poland largely went unnoticed. This was probably because the works were slow to be translated into English, and the rather meager information they contained about the massacres was subsumed within the interest generated by the much broader revelations about the effect of the exploitation of Enigma on the course of the war. Another problem was that Bertrand’s reference to the police decrypts was based largely on his recollections and personal notes. There were no copies of the intercepts or decrypts available.

The first account in English that discussed Ultra information in connection with the Holocaust was Walter Laqueur’s The Terrible Secret, first published in 1980. This book tracked the knowledge of the Holocaust among various groups such as German civilians, international Jewish organizations, officials of the major Allied and neutral countries, the leaders of the Jewish communities in Europe and America, and nongovernment organizations such as the International Red Cross. His account carried some additional details over the previous histories that had referred to the decrypts of the German Police messages. He also mentioned that the British were reading the Enigma messages of the German railway service, and, as a result, this suggested that the British had the capability to track the movement of trains throughout occupied Europe, which would have included the trains transporting Jews to the death camps in the east. It appears that Laqueur had some access or knowledge of British code-breaking efforts against the German Police, SS, and railway Enigma ciphers. He refers to some specific details from the police decrypts, but it is not clear if he had seen specific documents from GC&CS because they had not been released to the public.14 Laqueur also interviewed Peter Calvocoressi, an important figure in the operations of one of the analytic centers at Bletchley Park. He also may have been a source of Laqueur’s information.

In the same year as Laqueur’s book, Calvocoressi published his wartime memoir, Top Secret Ultra.15 Calvocoressi had a more detailed knowledge of the British code-breaking effort than Winterbotham. In this book, he painted a more detailed and technically accurate picture of the operations of the GC&CS' center at Bletchley Park. Calavocoressi also added a gruesome detail that tied in Engima cryptanalysis with the Holocaust. He claimed that German cryptographers used the numbers of the slave labor population from the daily SS concentration camp reports, encrypted in a “medium grade cipher,” to set the keys (wheel settings) for their Enigma machines.16 But like the previous works, Calvocoressi used no source documents. They remained classified.

The publication that provided the first detailed description of what allied communications intelligence knew of the Holocaust was Sir Harry Hinsley’s five-volume series, British Intelligence in the Second World War, published between 1979 and 1990. Volume II, published in 1981, contained an appendix on the police decodes which described the operations of the Einsatzgruppen and police units on the Eastern Front and the SS messages about the death and labor camps.17 Hinsley, who had worked on the German naval intelligence section at Bletchley Park during the war, and his editorial and writing staff had been given access to GC&CS records, decrypts, and translations of intercepted Axis messages for the purpose of writing the history. Again, the material, while cited in the work, itself remained classified and inaccessible to the public and would remain so some fifteen years after the first volume of Hinsley’s history had been published.

Hinsley’s work also was based partly on a multivolume history of wartime activities produced by the GC&CS in the years immediately after the war. Volume XIII of the Air and Military History series concentrated on the exploitation of the communications and encrypted messages of the German Police and other Reich security organizations. It contained a short description of intelligence derived from concentration camps and an appendix that listed individual massacres on the Eastern Front contained in selected decrypted police messages.18 Many of these volumes would be released to the British archives in the 1990s.

In 1984 a monograph was published in the Journal of Historical Review that reviewed the published literature of wartime intelligence, including the Police decrypts, which carried information about the massacres and the concentration camps.19 The article called into question what the intelligence actually revealed about the Nazi’s ultimate plan for the elimination of Europe’s Jews. Unfortunately, the journal in which this article appeared was a well-known forum for that faction of scholars and researchers associated with a movement known as “Holocaust denial."20 Rather than discuss the intelligence about the Holocaust and how Allied officials differed over its meaning, or review the Nazi program of silence and obfuscation about the Final Solution, the author claimed that the gaps in Allied intelligence suggested that many aspects of the Holocaust, such as the gassings at Auschwitz, were a fiction. However, the amassed evidence from captured records and the testimony of Holocaust victims and perpetrators overwhelms the article’s contention. Later releases of Police decrypts to the PRO would illustrate how the missing intelligence was attributable to greater German security measures and the limitations in the communications intelligence system.

Two shorter pieces that dealt with the German Police and the Holocaust appeared in the mid-1990s. The first was a monograph, SIGINT and the Holocaust, by Robert L. Benson, a senior researcher at the National Security Agency, known for his major role behind the release of the NKVD espionage messages referred to as VENONA. The other was a short piece in the New York Times Magazine, “The Holocaust Was No Secret,” by William J. Vanden Heuvel. The article in the Times probably was published in the wake of news stories, featured initially in early November 1996 in the Washington Post, about the discovery of decrypts of German Police messages in the NSA Record Group 457 at NARA.21 Both Vanden Heuvel’s and Benson’s articles focused on the revelations contained in the decrypts of the German Police and SS messages about the massacres in Russia. Both authors also grappled with the question of why Allied leaders, especially the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, who knew of the atrocities, did not do anything to publicize, impede, or stop them? As the two authors pointed out, there was really nothing that the Allies could have done to stop or appreciably retard the slaughter except to totally defeat the Nazis as soon as possible.22

As has been seen above, the critical element absent from all of these early works was the source material itself — in this case, the collection of decrypts of the German Police and SS messages. It also has been mentioned that an incomplete set of these decrypts had been discovered in RG 457 by American University history professor Richard Breitman in June 1996. This set of police decrypts was part of a larger 1996 NSA release of wartime records to the National Archives that numbered some 1.3 million pages. The set of German Police messages had been obtained by NSA from GCHQ in the mid-1980s and had been incorporated into the large release. The set that NSA had acquired was only a small portion of a much larger set of German Police messages that were still classified and resided in British archives. (See Chapter 3, page 62, about the background to the acquisition of these messages by NSA.) The publicity around the discovery of the police messages in the U.S. National Archives helped generate sufficient public pressure for the release to the public of the complete set of police decrypts by the Public Record Office in May 1997.

It should be pointed out, though, that since the early to mid 1980s, translations of Axis and Vichy diplomatic messages that contained limited information about the Holocaust had been available at the National Archives in the United States. These documents were located in the NSA Record Group 457. Beginning in 1979, NSA had turned over “redacted” (that is, copies of documents with the still-classified portions blacked out) copies of translations of Axis and Vichy diplomatic messages to the National Archives. Unfortunately, there was no topical index for the collections, which totaled almost 150,000 pages. Those individual translations that were relevant to the Holocaust lay buried away in their archival boxes and remained largely untouched by researchers for years.23

The first full use of any of these records in a historical study of the Holocaust did not occur until 1998 with the publication of Official Secrets by the same Professor Richard Breitman of American University in Washington, DC. The book contained a description of how the police messages were collected and processed by GC&CS. The largest part of Professor Breitman’s work looked at the response of the Allied governments to the course of the Holocaust, especially in light of information available from intelligence sources including the decrypts of the German Police and SS units. Using these, he was able, among other insights, to accord a far more significant role to the police units in the Holocaust, as well as reaffirm the importance of the Nazi policies of secrecy and deception that disguised the nature and scope of the Holocaust.24 His book also detailed the information contained in the SS concentration camp reports mentioned earlier by Calvocoressi.

It took nearly twenty-five years from the publication of Winterbotham’s book about the Ultra secret for many of the official records of the American and British wartime cryptologic agencies to be released to the public. Among the records were the collections of decrypts of translations of Axis and neutral messages, primarily German, which dealt with the Holocaust. The delayed release of the communications intelligence records did not impede scholarly research and understanding of the overall Holocaust phenomenon. Mountains of records had been available that documented Nazi planning and execution of the Final Solution. At worst, the lack of cryptologic material probably affected Holocaust scholarship of specific incidents. For example, the lack of police decrypts and translations may have contributed to scholars underestimating for decades the major role of the German Police in the massacres and other atrocities committed in the western USSR.25


  1. Michael Grant, The Jews in the Roman World. (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1973), 284-7.
  2. Norman Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 365-7. Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1997), 292, 317-8.
  3. See Berlin (Auswaertig) to Buenos Aires, 13 January 1943, SIS # 78845, NARA RG 457, Historical Cryptographic Collection, Box 359; Berlin (Auswaertig) to Tientsin, 4 August 1944, SIS # 135165, NARA, RG 457 HHC, Box 429; and Berlin (Auswaertig) to Tientsin, 15 December 1944, H-158178, RG 457, HHC, Box 456.
  4. Multinational Diplomatic (MND) Translation, Washington to Tokyo, 17 January 1939, SIS #3494, NARA RG 457 Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS), Historical Cryptologic Collection (HCC), Box 286.
  5. Raoul Hillberg. The Destruction of European Jews. 3 Volumes (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985. the Revised and Definitive Edition), 393.
  6. Gerhard Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 95-6, 191-2.
  7. Richard Breitman. Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned. What the British and Americans Knew (New York: Hill and Wang), 36-7.
  8. News of the American exploitation of the Japanese diplomatic cipher known as Purple had been revealed in part in the immediate postwar period during a bipartisan U.S. Senate committee investigation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As part of the hearings, the important diplomatic translations, including the famous fourteen-part message, were released in their entirety. Subsequently, a number of histories of the attack utilized the information to propound a number of interpretations about the attack. Interestingly, during these hearings, a reference was made to the British helping the Americans to “decode German messages.” This brief allusion to reading German cryptographic systems was published in a Time magazine article on 17 December 1945.
  9. Wladyslaw Kozaczuk, Bitwa o tajemnice: Sluzby wywiadowcze Polski I Rzeszy Niemieckiej 1922-1939 (The Secret Battle: The Intelligence Services of Poland and the German Reich, 1922-1939) (Warsaw: Ksiazka I Wiedza, 1967).
  10. Gustave Bertrand. Enigma: Ou la Plus Grande Enigme de la Guerre, 1939-1945 (Paris: Plon, 1973).
  11. F. W. Winterbotham. The Ultra Secret (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974).
  12. Bertrand, 117-8.
  13. Wladyslaw Kozaczuk. Wkregu Enigmy (Warsaw: Ksiazka I Wiedza, 1979) Kozaczuk’s Bitwa o tajmnice predated Bertrand’s and Winterbotham’s narratives. It has been suggested that The Secret Battle was the predecessor to Enigma. If so, then it might have contained the earliest reference to the interception of the police messages about the massacres in Russia. The source in Enigma about the police messages (p. 139) is quite similar to that in Bertrand’s book (117-8). However, this author was unable to settle whether The Secret War contains such a reference to the police messages.
  14. Walter Lacqueur. The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler’s Final Solution (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1998), 84 — 6.
  15. Peter Calvocoressi, Top Secret Ultra (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980).
  16. Ibid., 15. This author is unable to determine conclusively whether this claim is true or mistaken in whole or in part. German concentration camp slave labor population reports were marked “ZIP” by the British. This indicated that the messages had been encrypted in a high-level system like Enigma, not a so-called “medium-grade cipher,” as Calvocoressi reported, which would have been marked “PEARL.” Also, the highest setting for any of the 3 wheels of an Enigma was “26.” So the highest number available was “262626.” A German code clerk conceivably could have selected a six-figure number (or a set of two or three-figure numbers) from a concentration camp report by which to set the wheels. Whether the Germans used this on a regular basis (or at all) cannot be determined.
  17. F. H. Hinsley, et alia. British Intelligence in the Second World War. Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, Volume II (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery office, 1981), Appendix 5, 669-73.
  18. E. D. Phillips. GC&CS Air and Military History. Volume XIII. The German Police (London need publisher and date), 81-86, 234-6.
  19. K. C. Gleason, “The Holocaust and the Failure of Allied and Jewish Responses.” Journal of Historical Review (Vol. 5, Nos. 2, 3, 4; Winter 1984), 215. Gleason correctly reports that, early in the war, many Allied intelligence organizations lacked conclusive information about the scope and nature of German plans for the Jews and other groups. He is also correct that some Allied intelligence analysts were not aware of the extent of Nazi atrocities. As an example of this ignorance, Gleason states that photo interpreters of the United States Army Air Force could not determine the nature of the activities at the Birkenau complex. They were not aware of the camp’s primary role as a death camp. Later photo interpretation specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency could not discover any large group of victims at Birkenau, though one photo from 25 August 1944 showed about 1,500 people being processed near the gas chambers.

    There are several problems, though, with Gleason’s explanation. For one, he fails to mention that the technical capabilities of Allied photo interpreters were limited compared to current technology. They would have been hard pressed to find even large groups of victims with the optical analysis equipment available in 1944. Also, he does not mention that there were only a limited number of aerial photography missions, perhaps five, flown between the initial one in early April 1944 and the last when Birkenau was dismantled in November 1944. Such aerial missions could take only “instant” snap shots. They did not linger for several passes or extended overflights. The first flight in early April occurred before the flood of Hungarian Jews arrived as part of SS operations to eliminate that country’s Jews commanded by Adolf Eichmann. Interestingly, this April mission did photograph a new rail spur that, unknown to the photo interpreters, was part of the upgrade of Birkenau’s facilities to handle the anticipated influx of Hungarian Jews. The next mission was flown on 26 June near the end of the first phase of the German deportations. Many of the deported Hungarian Jews had already passed through the gas chambers and the crematoria. For a full description, see Dino A. Brigioni and Robert G. Piorer, “The Holocaust Revisited: A Retrospective Analysis of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex. (Studies in Intelligence, 45th Special Anniversary Edition, Fall 2000), 87-106.
  20. The JHR is the publication of the Institute for Historical review, which is a loosely organized scholarly association ostensibly dedicated to revisionism of conventional historical interpretations. However, in its content, the JHR carries a heavy emphasis of articles pressing a revisionist or denial viewpoint about the Holocaust. For more on the history and purpose of the Journal and the IHR, see Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why They Say It? (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2000), 43-46, 73-80, etc.
  21. “Decoded Cables Revise History of Holocaust.” Washington Post, 10 November 1996, Vol. 119, No. 341, A1
  22. Robert L. Benson. “SIGINT and the Holocaust.” Cryptologic Quarterly (Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 1995) 71-76; William J. Vanden Heuvel. “The Holocaust Was No Secret.” New York Times Magazine (December 22, 1996) 30-31.
  23. In the early 1980s, the National Security Agency released a number of sets of translations of Axis and Vichy messages and special research papers to the National Archives. These records actually were copies of the original translations and research papers. Information in the translations still considered classified had been redacted, or blacked out, from the originals. These redacted versions of the records are distinguished by the prefixed digraph “SR” in the series notation, e.g., “SRDJ” for Japanese diplomatic translations, or “SRA” for translations of Japanese military attaché messages. The diplomatic translations of interest were Japanese, or SRDJ; German, or SRDG; Vichy, or SRDV. Another set of diplomatic translations, categorized as “multinational,” or all countries, to include Axis and Vichy, was released in 1996 as part of the so-called Historical Cryptographic Collection (HCC), which the 1.3 million pages were labeled. The diplomatic translations in the HCC were not redacted.
  24. Breitman, 67-8.
  25. Ibid., 5-7.