The Holocaust Historiography Project
Auschwitz, by J.-C. Pressac
While I was studying the BW 30/31 file, known as the DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungs Werke / German equipment works) “Schlosserei / metalworking shop” file containing the “Bestellscheine / orders” issued in 1943 by the “Zentral Bauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei, Auschwitz OS/Waffen SS and Police Central Construction Management, Auschwitz, Upper Silesia”, for “Bauwerken / work sites” 5a, 5b, 30, 30a, 30b, 30c and 32 [respectively the B.I delousing installations, the four Birkenau Krematorien and the Zentral Sauna], I discovered an order of 13/2/43 to make for KGL Krematorien IV and V “12 Stück gasdichten Türen ca 30/40 cm/ 12 gas tight doors approx 30x40 cm”, signed by the site overseer Teichmann and countersigned by the head of the Bauleitung, SS Major Bischoff. While the three known drawings of Krematorien IV and V did not mention any gas tight openings, I had proof that shutters, rather than doors in view of their size, of this type had been ordered on 13th February 1943, made on 24th and 25th, and completed on 26th, this being inscribed on the back of the order. Then, in file BW 30/28, concerning work in Krematorien IV and V carried out by the civilian firm Riedel & Son of Bielitz, I found in their “Tagesleistungen / Daily timesheets”, two reports, one of 28th February 1943 mentioning “Gassdichtenfenster versetzen / Fit gas tight shutters” [Photo 27] and the other of 2nd March 1943, containing the entry: “Fußboden betonieren im Gasskammer / Concrete floor in gas chamber” [Photo 28]. Thus, on 2nd March 1943, civilian workers formally designated a room [in the western part of] “Einäscherungsanlage 4 / Cremation installation 4” [ Krematorium IV] by the term “gas chamber”, BECAUSE two days earlier they had installed “gas-tight shutters” in it [three of these are now kept in the former coke store of the “Old Krematorium"].

I did not immediately make the connection between the two files, and even less did I realize the value of my “find”. Faurisson had just published his Mémoire en défense. Contre ceux qui m'accuse de falsifier l'Histoire. La question des chambres à gaz [Statement for the defense. Against those who accuse me of falsifying history. The question of the gas chambers] (La Vieille Taupe, 1980). All the discussion was concerned with the famous preface by Noam Chomsky. That Faurisson should have scored a victory in having his book prefaced, in the name of sacrosanct freedom of expression, by a most celebrated American Jew, who in fact knew nothing about the demolition work the professor, was involved in, was the least of my worries. Only Auschwitz mattered, and in particular the documents that I had found but of which I did not have copies. I resumed to France on 21st November and met Faurisson at Guillaume’s home on 27th. I confronted him in the midst of members of La Vieille Taupe who were coming and going and occasionally gathered round us. I told him that then were far too many traces of “Gas” in the Museum Archives for me to be able to go on believing in the validity of his hypothesis.

He asked me to change my mind, but since I had myself found unpublished “criminal traces”, I could not possibly turn back. He asked me to remain “neutral” until the trial. I promised that, and he then inscribed a copy of Mémoire en defense with the following text:
“To Jean-Claude PRESSAC
whom we call SCHLIEMANN because he is one of that rare breed of seekers who actually find, I dedicate this copy of my Mémoire, begging him to maintain the attitude he has adopted hitherto, which consists of not taking sides between exterminationists and revisionists in order to determine coolly and impartially, what was the material and materialist reality of Auschwitz.
With all my esteem
R Faurisson
27th November 1980, at the home of Pierre Guillaume”
His dedication left me free to continue my research provided I did nothing to prejudice his legal defense. Confronted with the new evidence, Faurisson and Guillaume had a moment of indecision, seeing the possibility of throwing in the sponge and officially declaring that it did appear that some homicidal gassings had taken place at Birkenau. But they were too committed to negation pure and simple to backtrack now, and the opposing party was hard on their heels. Being given a free reign by Faurisson meant I was now on my own, somewhat perplexed and only half-way through my quest. The documents proved to me that gas chambers had been installed in the Krematorien, but this conviction in no way solved the problem of how these installations actually worked. My meetings with the others became less frequent and contact was virtually broken off. I had to reconstitute for myself the documentation that Faurisson had and that I had been working on. The Museum filled the gaps easily, for in fact Faurisson possessed relatively little valuable material on Auschwitz. In order to make some use of the work I had done on the delousing installations, which totally negated Faurisson’s affirmations that using hydrocyanic acid was a complex business requiring sophisticated gas chambers, I decided to write a paper on these Auschwitz-Birkenau disinfestation installations. And Faurisson lent a hand during our last few meetings, partly to keep my attention away from the “supposedly homicidal” gas chambers and also in the hope that he would be able to confuse the issue in the unlikely event that an unexpected “negativist” result should be discovered by a “neutral” third party. The same procedure was to be found in the work of Henri Roques Les confessions de Kurt Gerstein. Etudes comparatives des differentes versions, June 1985. Faced with a fire coming head on, one method of combatting it is to light independent lateral fires. Faurisson was and still is behind Roques. I systematically studied the sanitary installations of Birkenau, comprising sewage treatment stations I and II, and the projected III, the numerous provisional decantation basins, the Zentral Sauna, Blocks BW 5a and 5b, and all the disinfestation gas chambers that had existed in the camp. Some of the results obtained are presented at the beginning of this book, in particular everything relating to the gas chambers. On the other hand, the material collected on the sewage treatment stations has been little exploited

My regular visits to Oswiecim led to Iwaszko’s gradually coming to have confidence in me, even though he was aware of my reticence regarding the “official” genesis of the Krematorien. In return, I offered to act as postman between France and Poland for anything concerning the PMO Archives. That was how I came to meet Jacques Zylbermine, one of the youngest surviving French deportees to Auschwitz. Of his family of six people, the only survivors in 1945 were himself and his elder brother. His father, mother and two sisters had perished at Auschwitz. He received me very courteously when I announced that I was sent by Iwaszko, whom he knew. But he soon saw that the young man sitting opposite him held not very orthodox opinions and seemed to him disorientated. He could have thrown me out, considering what I had to say and in view of his own past. but he did not do so, believing it to be better psychology to leave me free to act as I wished, and going so far as to offer his aid. As he told me later, he wanted to know to whom he and his comrades could entrust the “key” of their memory when they died. He taught me the bare essentials required for understanding the Jewish community. Then we became friends. It was impossible for me to be his friend and at the same time to maintain contact, even sporadic, with Faurisson, for whom Zylbermine’s family had merely been “scattered”. I broke completely with Faurisson in March or April 1981. During the period during which he honored me with his friendship while knowing that I had worked for Faurisson, Mr. Zylbermine did not mention me to any of his entourage, which he might well have done. I also learned that he knew Georges Wellers and a former member of the Sonderkommando, Alter Fajnzylberg, whom I was unfortunately never able to meet. In June, he went with me to various sessions of the Faurisson trial.

Among these sessions, I must mention the afternoon of 1st Jun 1981, for it was exceptional. Maitre Bernard Jouanneau was speaking At that time I was unaware that he had personally been to Poland to find documents on the gas chambers, as counsel for the LICRA, honestly asking himself whether the “…genocide took place as it has bee described and on the scale that has been claimed”. I listened to a great advocate pleading admirably for three or four hours, bringing to life before the Court the demential picture of one of the most somber periods in man’s history. Absolutely rigorous, the content of his pleading prefigured the book Les chambres a gaz, secret d'Etat published by Editions de Minuit in 1984. The implacable enumeration of testimonies and known documents proving the existence of homicidal gas chambers, literally floored me. Faurisson was not present, of course. Listening to Maitre Jouanneau, he would perhaps have realized that one cannot trample with impunity on the memory of millions of victims. Despite the rigid framework of the court, Maitre Jouanneau made me live an afternoon of poignant reflection, because for the first time he presented an overall picture of the question. I reacted so strongly to his words because, as I realized afterwards, I was still very much impregnated with Faurisson’s ideas. But the emotion that I felt did not prevent me from noticing certain inexactitudes in Maitre Jouanneau’s implacable indictment of Faurisson’s fallacious arguments.

His case was based mainly upon testimonies, but also presented some important “material traces”. Practically ALL known witnesses were cited, except for Henryk Tauber, who is now the best one after comparing his deposition with the available historical material Admittedly the testimonies cited were and remain authentic, but the precision of the accounts and the date when the authors wrote them c had them recorded considerably influence their degree of veracity What are we to say of Filip Muller, who in Trois ans dans une chambr a gaz a Auschwitz(Pygmalion, Gerard Watelet, 1980) [Published in the United States in 1979 under the title Eyewitness Auschwitz] on page 15 of his account describes the “round red-brick chimney” of Krematorium I, which he can never have seen in this state because he arrived in the camp in May 1942, whereas this chimney was already of square section as shown by a drawing of Krematorium I dated September 1941. What can we say other than that the book should have been annotated by a competent historian [this error was pointed out to me by the Auschwitz Museum. I had myself noticed others, but not this]. What can we say of the declaration by Pery Broad, with its tone of outrageous Polish nationalism and in which he places side by side Bunkers 1 and 2 which were actually several hundred meters apart other than that his testimony will not be really exploitable until we know under what conditions and in whose company it was written. What can we say of the book by Dr Miklos Nyiszli, Auschwitz: a doctors' eyewitness account, in which he multiplies on average by a factor a four all the figures concerning Krematorium II. where he lived for six months, except that I shall not rest until I find the original manuscript and can understand what made the author exaggerate so much. What can we say about Dr Bendel’s allegations about Birkenau, in which the only acceptable truth is his own, except that he was a poor witness. What can we say of the multiple versions of the Belzec gassings by Kurt Gerstein except that he was a polyglot, what to say of the figures he puts forward, except that they reflect the excessive emotionalism of an unstable man who had witnessed unbearable scenes. What can we say about the deposition by Alter Fajnzylberg of 13th April 1945, in which he states that twelve corpses at a time were charged in a single cremation muffle in Krematorium I, except that it was physically impossible. What can we say of his declarations of 29th September 1980 before Maitre Pierre Attal, a Paris notary, other than that, because of his age and what he had suffered there remained only vague pictures in his mind, difficult to describe. What can we say of David Szmulewski who was attributed the merit of having clandestinely photographed in August 1944, gassings and incinerations in Krematorium V, and who, having claimed that he had climbed on the roof of the Krematorium to operate, was deprived during the 60s of the paternity of these photographs taken on the ground, except that he was the sole survivor of this exploit. What can we say about former Krematorium III Sonderkommando member David Olère coolly telling me in 1981 that the SS made sausages of human flesh [” Kremawurst"], except that he was still living in the nightmare that had been imposed on him and recounted anything that came into his head, whereas I held in my hands his own drawings of 1945-47 which are masterpieces of authenticity. What can we say about so many singular or fanciful testimonies, other that we must not act like Henri Roques [read Faurisson] with the “confessions” of Kurt Gerstein and conclude that the witness is not a true witness. Instead we must try, as Georges Wellers did in his refutation of Roques' “thesis”, to assess the value of the testimony in the light of known documents and try to explain any oddities, errors and even lies it might contain as a function of the individual’s nature, what he has suffered, what he has seen or not been able to see, the exact place where he was, the date of his deportation and of his deposition or his account. All this is important and should be given due consideration in validating, confirming or rejecting a testimony that can rightly be criticized. A good Auschwitz historian should now be able, when confronted with a former prisoner or SS man, or when reading the memoirs of one or the other, to detect immediately whether he is an authentic witness and what are the strong and weak points of his testimony [A few years ago Paris-Matchalmost published the Memoirs of Dr Mengele I read only one paragraph of the last page, not even concerned with Auschwitz, and could see it was an obvious fake.] Maitre Jouanneau, without necessarily adopting the reserved attitude of the historian, was right to mention these essential witnesses, even though their testimony should be qualified.

It was obvious to Maitre Jouanneau that since the extermination had taken place in Poland it was necessary to go there to find the “material proofs” that were lacking in France. He formed his “intimate conviction” on the basis of a physical trace in the Maidanek camp [Photo 29]:
There is one sign that for me personally appeared particularly revealing. Here, and I wish to make no use of trickery, here is a photograph of the gas chamber at Maidanek [Photo 30], where 1 went. Look at this closed door, with its metal bars, with its peep-hole. Do you think this peep-hole was used to inspect hair as it was being disinfected? Look at the bricks at the base of this wall, these red bricks have become bluish because they breathed hydrocyanic acid.