The Holocaust Historiography Project

'Holocaust' Pharmacology vs. Scientific Pharmacology

  • THE DEATH CAMP TREBLINKA: A DOCUMENTARY, edited by Alexander Donat, Holocaust Library, New York, 320pp, hardback, $9.95, ISBN: 0-89604-009-7

Horst Kehl

This book is presented as a documentary, and indeed is catalogued as such in the Library of Congress Index. The editor has authored only ten pages of the text, the rest is a collection of testimonies from survivors, collated and chronicled by one Rachel Auerbach, who was never in the camp herself.

Careful analysis of the testimony of the six eye-witnesses reveals numerous contradictions and impossiblities. Perhaps an overactive imagination on the part of the ghostwriter is responsible. Or perhaps it is the eye-witnesses themselves who are prone to slight exaggerations; Gerald Reitlinger, the noted Exterminationist, cautions against taking too literally the testimony of eastern European Jews (The Final Solution, Sphere, London, p581). One of the more obvious exaggerations is the allegation by one eye-witness, Samuel Willenberg, that he saw a nude girl leap over a 3 meter (9 feet) high barbed wire fence in order to escape the gas chambers. Let us now look at some of the less obvious canards.

One of the key issues concerning Treblinka is of course the duration of its existence, and number of people who passed through its facilities. According to the Commandant of the camp, Dr. Irmfried Eberl, the camp was opened on 7 July 1942, and closed on 2 August 1943 after a revolt broke out and the camp was burned to the ground.

However, according to the chronicler Rachel Auerbach, there were mass executions going on at Treblinka from 23 July 1942 through the middle of September 1943. This would seem to indicate that there were gassings going on at Treblinka six weeks after the camp and gas chambers had been burned to the ground!

Since the camp was only in operation for 400 days (give or take six weeks) there would have had to be a very busy daily throughput of exterminatees to attain the very high estimates of total victims. These total estimates range from as low as 700,000 to as high as 1,200,000 (ppg, 14, 25, 52). There are even contradictions within one witness’s own testimony. On page 52 we are told that 20,000 corpses were processed daily by the gas chambers, but on the following page he says that only 6 000 were killed each day. Another witness does the same thing: on page 159 we are told that 10,000-12,000 were gassed each day, and then on page 164 it becomes 30,000.

Clearly there are some rather major incongruities with respect to the daily death toll, and the capacities of the extermination facilities. The reader can take almost any figure he pleases. But still one has to bear in mind that the camp was only in existence for just over a year.

The modus operandi of the gassing itself is likewise somewhat contradictory. On page 12 it is reported that a motor was used to gas victims with its exhaust fumes, and this is further amplified on page 49 when the motor becomes the engine of a captured Russian tank. Page 157 advises us that this method took nearly one hour to kill the victims. Various other methods are bandied around including “hot steam” (p130), “chlorine asphyxiation” (p24), but alack and alas, our old friend Zyklon B does not get a look in. It seems that the fiendish human devils of the Holocaust kingdom had not gotten their act sufficiently together to order the same method of extermination at each of the myriad mills of death.

The size and capacity of the gas chambers is described in some detail. Eye-witness Jankiel Wiernik states on page 158 that the gas chambers were 5 × 5 meters, which is 25 square meters (250 square feet). Into this chamber 450-500 persons were crowed. Simple arithmetic tells the reader that each person therefore had only one half square foot each, or 6 inches by 6 inches. Is this practically possible? Try it and see.

Later, 10 additional chambers were added (p161) to the original 3 (p157). These new gas chambers were 7 × 7 meters each, or 49 square meters (500 square feet). While these new super gas chambers were much roomier than before, 1,000-1,200 people were crowded into these. The height of these new chambers is given as 1.9 meters, which is less than 6 feet. Presumably the victims were either all short people, or they were asked to stoop!

The total capacity of the entire 13 gas chambers can now be calculated. 10 chambers times an average of 1100 equals 11,000; the 3 smaller chambers held 500 each, which is 1,500; making a grand total per complete gassing operation of 12,500 victims. One should compare this with the reported figures on pages 52, 53, 159 and 164.

What happened to the bodies? Again, we enter a quagmire of impossibilities. At first, all the corpses (12,500 a day?) were buried in large ditches in the camp (pp86, 90, 92 and 105). But as the entire camp was only 15 hectares (p70) which is about 37 acres, one would soon use up all the available ditches. A map on pages 318-319 shows that much of the land was taken up with the camp buildings and workshops, leaving only about 3 hectares (7 acres) for such mass burials.

The authors try to get around this problem by telling us that after April 1943 the bodies were burned, and not buried. One eye-witness speculates that this was because the Germans had just discovered the mass-graves of Poles murdered by Soviets at Katyn, and they didn’t want the same thing to happen to them (p169). But here too we are presented with a number of contradictory statements.

On page 171 we are told about pyres in winter, but we are obliged to ask, which winter, since the burning began in April 1943 and ended in September the same year. Likewise, a bizarre story on pages 190-199 relates how new arrivals saw the funeral pyres and revolted. They were all shot and next morning their bodies were covered with snow. Although the weather in eastern Europe does leave a lot to be desired, we were not aware that snow was a common feature in April — September.

The cremations allow the eye-witnesses' imaginations to really run riot. On page 38 we are told that human blood makes first class combustion material. This will come as a surprise to us physicians who have been believing all along that blood is 70% water! On the same page we are told that young bodies burn better than old ones, which also seem strange when we consider that younger bodies contain more water than their elders. Continuing on the same page, we are startled to learn that “Men don’t burn without women.” The “explanation” for this is that the fat of women is used as kindling and to maintain the fires. On page 32 we are informed that pans would be placed beneath the grilles to catch the fat as it ran off, for use in -wouldn’t we know — soap making. Leaving aside the fact that we were told on page 13 that the victims were all skin and bone, we wonder what wondrous pathological discovery was made by the angels of death at Treblinka, which enable them to determine these qualities of female tissue which were previously -and since-totally unknown to modern science.

The burnings were carried out in two ways, it seems. bodies were stacked up on grates or grilles of old railroad tracks (p170) 100-150 meters along (300-450 feet). These grates could hold 3,000 bodies at a time, and 10,000-12,000 bodies were burned each day. Other burnings took place in ditches, though how oxygen was supplied to the combustion in such a ditch is not explained (pp92, 105, 156). Page 170 informs us that the bodies were doused with gasoline, but surely this would only result in charring, not burning, due to the flash characteristics of gasoline combustion. (Could it be that all that female fat acted as some sort of catalyst perhaps?)

Although Treblinka is classified as a death camp, some rather lively things seem to have gone on there. If the sole function of the camp was to process living humans into ashes / fat / soap / etc. it seems rather odd that a zoo was maintained (pp47, 318), Jewish services were conducted (p63), children lived there (p64), black market activites went on (p124), gold dollars and fine liquor were traded (p50), there were cigarette rations (p176), there was a radio listening post and underground camp newspaper. One eyewitness reports that some victims arrived in express trains, complete with dining cars (p64)!

Later on, we are given an example of the bruality of the guards, when an incident is described where a guard tore a child in half and the child’s naked feet still stood standing: frozen to the ground (p163).

It is this kind of lurid imagination which gives the lie to the entire thesis. If it is impossible to tear a child in half; if it is impossible to burn bodies in ditches; if it is impossible to cram people into half a square foot each; if it is impossible to use women as kindling and scoop up buckets of human fat; if it is impossible to leap over a 9 feet high fence; just what other parts of this saga are true?

The authors display their extremism and inattention to consistency when they place Treblinka as a “death camp” just as “Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen” and others (p54). If the editors at “Holocaust Library” had done their homework properly they would know that the official Exterminationist line is that there were no gassings in the German camps at all; “only in the Polish camps.” Martin Broszat (head of the Holocaust Institute in Munich) says so in Die Zeit of 26 August 1960. Simon Wiesenthal says so in Books & Bookmen of April 1975. Gitta Sereny says so in the New Statesman of 2 November 1979. Maybe the “Holocaust Librarians” know something that they don’t!

Bibliographic information
Author: Horst Kehl
Title: 'Holocaust' pharmacology vs. scientific pharmacology (review)
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Spring 1981
Issue: Volume 2 number 1
Location: Page 91
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.