The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
Photo 4 Photo 4:
(Personal Archives)

Entrance to the STUTTHOF concentration camp, or rather the “old” or initial camp. At the end of the path running from the gate is the crematorium with its high chimney, a building reconstructed after the war.

Photo 5:
(Personal Archives)

The two single-muffle incineration furnaces of the STUTTHOF crematorium, found almost intact at the Liberation, together with the metal stretchers for charging the corpses, a technique developed on the basis of experience in the Birkenau Krematorien.
Photo 5

We crossed the Polish-Czech border at Cieszyn, before heading for Vienna and returning to the western world that we were beginning to miss terribly. We had came to several conclusions by the time we left Poland:
· we had discovered Polish anti-semitism through seeing the total indifference accorded to the places where the extermination of the Jews had taken place;
· we deduced that there was nothing surprising about the massacre having taken place on Polish soil, given the ambient atmosphere
· more generally, we had come to the conclusion that in the East, everything was GREY.
Although I had realized that a half-day visit was not enough to cover the whole of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex and that two or three days were really needed, I was one of the very few young French people to have actually visited the site and to have acquired some slight knowledge of the place, something that many western historians singularly lacked. Nevertheless, my knowledge was inadequate and in 1978-79 my topographical ignorance was to prove a handicap. One cannot go on enjoying the irresponsibility of youth forever. As a newly qualified pharmacist I had to make a niche for myself and I had other things to worry about than concentration camps. I continued to read a great deal, mainly contemporary history and science fiction, but about the age of thirty I began to think that I had taken in enough — receiving and understanding the thoughts of others is a praiseworthy and necessary pastime, but in the final analysis it becomes egotistical. It was time for me to give something in my turn, to build something out of the knowledge I had acquired.

Photo 6
Photo 6:
(Photo of Polish origin taken from a work by K Dunin-Wasowicz)
The restored gas chamber at STUTTHOF. View of the southern end and western side. In the foreground is the heating stove, with its chimney emerging from the roof at the far end. This chamber, originally used for delousing effects, was later used as a homicidal gas chamber. This mixed use is an extreme example of the confusion created over a period of thirty years and more by the difficulty of distinguishing between, or the deliberate refusal to distinguish between, disinfestation and homicidal gas chambers.

The synthesis of my reading and my interests was to be found in parallel history and/or political fiction. I considered the models of the genre to be Ce n'est pas pour cette année by C M Kornbluth (in Satellite, special issue 40 bis of January 1962) dealing with the invasion of the United States by the Soviet Union with all its consequences, and the film L'Angleterre occupée showing the misadventures of a young nurse who joins a British fascist movement and discovers the “final solution” at the beginning of the reconquest of Britain by the Allies. Made on a ridiculously low budget, (10 million old francs or a few tens of thousands of dollars) this film achieved the distinction of being a commercial failure and a total success in terms of the authenticity of the setting, the uniforms, the military equipment which corresponded exactly with the year of its introduction, and the presentation of a small gas chamber in an establishment where euthanasia was practised humanely but on a large scale — a “clinic” where two methods of killing coexisted: lethal injections and gas. I defy anybody to distinguish between extracts from this film and actual sequences taken during the second world war.

After much hesitation I came to my decision. I would describe a universe resulting from a German victory in 1945 or 1946. I cannot claim that this was an original idea, but I wanted to see where it would lead. In this politico-military chronicle of a different future, I renewed the framework for my characters with each chapter, each of which dealt with a particular question or a specific period. unlike many novelists who set the scene once and for all at the beginning of the book.

I eventually came to a point where the logical continuation of my novel was via Peenemünde and the Mazurian Lakes (literary exploitation of my holidays in Poland), then the Balkans, in Croatia and Serbia. I wanted to go to Zagreb, but in 1979 I was unable to manage it, despite two attempts, so I decided to turn instead to a chapter for which I already had documentation and personal impressions, that on Auschwitz-Birkenau.