The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
objects [Documents 40, 41 and 98]. In the film “Chronicles of the Liberation of the camp, 1945”, already mentioned, the outside of a gas chamber using Zyklon-B in the section of the camp known as “Kanada I” is shown, with its characteristic gas-tight door with a peephole. There is a real problem here, however, for this gas chamber was strictly for disinfestation, not for homicidal purposes. The interior, several photographs of which were taken at the Liberation and in the 50s and 60s, never seems to have been filmed, probably because it was not fitted with false showers.

In the search for evidence of the criminality of the Krematorien, the “Bauhof”, the camp’s building materials yard, turned out to be a very valuable source. and was exploited to the full by the Examining Judge, Jan Sehn [Document 99], in conjunction with the correspondence found concerning the construction of the Krematorien.

Then, during the 50s, the Krematorien became places of pilgrimage. A belvedere was built on the collapsed roof of the furnace room of Krematorium II, where the motors for the ventilation system were installed and where some of the Sonderkommando men used to live [Document 100]. A first commemorative plaque was erected near the ruins of Krematorium II, on private initiative [Documents 101 and 102]. A central monument, between Krematorium II and III and the end of the ramp, was erected by the Polish authorities [Document 103]. It would appear that the central monument was later than the commemorative plaque of Krematorium II, whose Hebrew inscriptions were considered too “provocative” [!] at the time and caused it to be removed. Finally in 1963-64, the present monument was erected [Document 104 and 105], chosen from the works presented in an international competition held by the Auschwitz Museum and the Polish authorities. It is located on part of the land belonging to the two Krematorien, set on very large stones arranged irregularly and extending over a considerable area, thus preventing any subsequent archeological research. Its artistic value is for the individual to judge. The base of the monument is of nineteen stone tablets, each bearing a text in a different language. The content of these texts varying slightly from one to the other: for example, here are the English, French and German versions:
1940 AND 1945
DE 1940 A 1945
1940 — 1945
The figure of 4 million victims is now recognized as “emotional” and should really more in the order of 1 million. Despite this incorrect figure, repeated in 19 different languages, the visitor who stops and meditates before the Birkenau monument cannot but be aware that he is there between two buildings designed as normal crematoriums by a few dozen men, then criminally converted by these men, and built and fitted out by a few hundred more, and in the end so destructive that they killed and reduced to ashes about 750,000 people, the very great majority of whom were non-combatants whose only crime against the regime that annihilated them was their Judaism.

Before the second monument was built, much digging and searching was done in the crematorium grounds and ruins. The hunt was essentially for notes, photographs, and other objects hidden in the heaps of ashes or buried by members of the Sonderkommando. As of 1962, only six manuscripts had been found, whose Hebrew texts were attributed to three authors: Zalmann Gradowski, an “unknown author” [presumed to be Leib Langfus] and Zalman Lewenthal, and also a letter written in French by Hermann Chalm. All these writings were published by the Auschwitz Museum in a special volume entitled “Amidst a nightmare of crime”, together with the deposition of Stanislav Jankowski (whose real name was Alter Feinsilber) made on 16th April 1945 and in fact placed at the front of this book. On 5th November 1970, an inhabitant of Oswiecim, Wojciech Borowcyk, brought to the Auschwitz Museum a set of five manuscripts found in the attic of his house during a major tidy up. These Hebrew manuscripts, which had been found by his elder brother, Gustaw Borowczky in April 1945, near the ruins of Krematorium III, had never been handed over to an interested body because the elder brother had left the town. They thus lay undisturbed in the attic for twenty five years. This “new” testimony, written by a Sonderkommando man whose first name was Lejb, was translated by Dr Roman Pytel and published by the Auschwitz Museum under the title “Ich will leben …” [I want to live …]

The author knows of two other excavations made during the 60s to investigate the gas chambers of Krematorien II and III. The first dug a trench around the walls of Leichenkeller 1 of Krematorium II [Documents 106, 107, 108 and 109]. The second, undertaken in August 1968, was at the northern end of Leichenkeller 1 of Krematorium III and cleared away the soil to expose the air extraction vents near the base of the walls [Document 55]. This last excavation was not consolidated and resulted in land slips that further damaged and jumbled the ruins of this part of Krematorium III.
As we come to the end of this study, one observation is certainly called for: most of the German documents used in it have been available to historians for forty years, and yet no precise and detailed history of Krematorien II and III was ever produced during this time and it was not until 1988 that the present author completed such a study, subject to the gaps and errors that may become evident later, In the author’s opinion, the reason why such a task has never been undertaken before is to be found in the degree of interest shown, in the main countries concerned about the extermination of the Jews, in the study of the technical means by which it was made possible.

After the work done by the Examining Judge, Jan Sehn. on the question, the Poles felt no need to probe any further. After Jan Sehn’s death in 1957, nobody thought to pursue or question his study of the Krematorien where the homicidal gas chambers were located, because the facts were considered to be obvious, as plain to see as the sun in the sky. What is more, a certain anti-semitic past, which ought to be forgotten in view of the vicissitudes suffered by the Poles since 1945, turned their historical research away from this field, where the findings were known and accepted, towards work on Polish resistance during the war for the survival of that country. In the Federal republic of Germany, despite several trials where former SS men claimed that they had scarcely participated in the “actions” at all, or even that they had seen nothing at all, and where former prisoners often invented things, an ostrich-like attitude and the desire to forget were stronger than any interest in historical research, the main aim being to avoid fanning the embers of a still smoldering past. The case of the German democratic republic was different, its political structure allowing it to squarely face and denounce a past of which it considers the other Germany to be the direct heir. In Austria. a trial such as that of the two “Krematorium architects” ended up being dismissed for lack of evidence, simply because the historical material provided by the Poles and the Russians was not properly exploited, and because of an unconscious refusal of self-criticism on the part of the population, The Soviet Union, hampered by the variations and contradictions in its political orthodoxy and trapped by memories of a guilty past (Katyn, the Gulags) and by an equally guilty present, discredited itself in the eyes of world opinion and gradually lost any rights on the subject, even though it was the Soviet Army that liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau and had seized documents from the archives the quality and value of which still remain unknown. The Anglo-Saxon world felt itself to be relatively little concerned (United Kingdom) or too far away to really participate (United States, with notable exceptions such as Raul Hilberg). The position of Israel would seem to be close to that of Poland on the evidence of the mass gassings, a position reinforced by the presence of numerous survivors of the camps, and interest turned more towards a religious preservation of the memory rather than a close study of the mechanics of the extermination. There remains the case of France, where the Jewish population was free to express itself fully. Unfortunately, the appearance of the “iron curtain” made contacts and visits to the places where the extermination had taken place very difficult, and the historians having the capacity and the desire to study the question generally preferred to take the easy way out and rely on what was said and written by “prominent” witnesses (and by them only), ignoring the testimony of ordinary deportees (those who had suffered the most, but without glorifying themselves for it after the war), and disregarding the German archives preserved “on the other side” of the iron curtain.

The fact that the history of the extermination rested essentially on eyewitness accounts gave rise in the West to a debate cased on comparison and confrontation of these testimonies, a critical attitude which led in the end towards some people purely and simply denying the existence of homicidal gas chambers. Testimony history and its revisionist offspring being very closely linked, the one having generated the other, it became absolutely essential to find a new historical approach in order to escape from the closed circle of futile debate and go further in search of the truth. A precise study based on material evidence, such as the study of Krematorien II and III, meets this requirement of getting out of the circle, but can by no means be considered definitive, because like any human endeavor it contains imperfections. It is intended above all to be the beginning, open to criticism and improvement, of a detailed, in-depth study of all the gas chambers, for homicidal or disinfestation purposes, still existing in the Nazi concentration camps. This study also demonstrates the complete bankruptcy of the traditional history (and hence also of the methods and criticisms of the revisionists), a history based for the most part on testimonies, assembled according to the mood of the moment, truncated to fit an arbitrary truth and sprinkled with a few German documents of uneven value and without any connection with one another. This new methodology is also a form of protection against the temptation to seek media success, as in films or television programs which, despite their success, disdain even the most elementary historical approach and cut themselves off from basic realities. Finding a hitherto unknown document that makes it possible to fill a gap between two known facts and this improving our overall knowledge is a thousand times more necessary and important than constantly wasting kilometers of film on the same places, the same ruins and the same monuments without ever bringing anything new. The money invested in these films or television broadcasts would have been better spent on genuine historical research in order to establish a less fragile truth than that based on human memory, which is fallible and changes over time.

Above and beyond the methodological errors, the faults, deliberate or otherwise, the many sophisms that were committed and triggered a violent nihilist reaction, it is essential to recall the significance of Krematorien II and III, as it was illustrated after the Liberation by a Soviet artist who portrayed Krematorium II (working on the basis of German drawings of the “930” series) in a deserted landscape [Document 110] and as portrayed symbolically from 1945 by David Olère. After his return to France, with people constantly coming to ask him “Have you any news of my mother, my father, my brothers and sisters, my dear children, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my friends and neighbors, please, where are they?” David Olère, in a weak state and exasperated by all these people who had still not understood, used to reply by thrusting ONE SINGLE SKETCH [Document 111] under their noses.
Completed on 4th February 1988