Jean-Claude Pressac's 1989 book, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, has been examined at length in The Journal of Historical Review and elsewhere. Pressac's principal, almost sole, target is Robert Faurisson, and I expect that Faurisson's critique will become the definitive one. Accordingly, this presentation is not meant to be a thorough critique of Pressac's book.
I do, however, wish to supplement what has already been written and said with some reactions of my own. What will be illustrated is something that I observed long ago and for which Pressac's book is a wonderful example. The “Holocaust” is such a gigantic fraud that it is a cornucopia of absurdities. One has only to contemplate it from a slightly different perspective to see new absurdities tumble out. Alternatively, one can view it from the same perspective after some time has elapsed (or one can ask another person to observe it), with the same results.
Also, Pressac has commented on my work and I think it appropriate to reply.
It is generally agreed that Pressac did history a service in gathering and publishing documents that were previously unknown, or at least not easily available. He then interpreted these documents in the outlandish ways analyzed in the earlier critiques.
He also accepted the chemical analyses reported by Fred Leuchter in 1988 (and since confirmed by the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow), and the implication that the alleged mass gassings with the pesticide Zyklon did not leave cyanide traces as were left in the delousing gas chambers (although he is not entirely consistent about this). Thus he invented a gassing procedure that, he claimed without offering evidence, would leave no such trace, declared it to be the one followed at Auschwitz, and found that he was consequently obliged to reject important details in the accounts of two star “witnesses": Commandant Rudolf Höss, who was supposedly in charge of the whole operation, and Dr. Nyiszli. In the course of his exposition, he notes additional problems with the standard testimonies. I am reminded of one of those old cartoons showing a man sawing off the tree branch he's sitting on. As we shall see, even on the basis of the concerns he raised in his book, Pressac should have come down much harder on the alleged eye-witnesses.
In summary, what Pressac offers is (a) an admission that the gassings at Auschwitz cannot be proved by forensic means, (b) admissions that the usual alleged witnesses to exterminations are at least unreliable, and (c) a collection of German documents, ambiguous when taken out of context, that provide what he calls “criminal traces” of exterminations. These three points have been the foci of the earlier critiques of Pressac's book.
Pressac's book is entirely dedicated to supporting his claim that the wartime German authorities at Auschwitz constructed and operated homicidal gas chambers there. He cannot, and does not even try, to connect such operations to any policy emanating from Berlin. Nor does he try to show that there existed a three-year program employing trains continuously crossing Europe and carrying Jews to their deaths, unobserved by Allied intelligence agencies, by German military intelligence, by the Red Cross, by the Vatican, by the Jews facing transport under German policies, or even by the Jewish leaders outside occupied Europe who were publicly wailing about “extermination." Such major historical bounds having long been established, an opus such as Pressac's, with its strict focus on local questions, is the only kind of anti-revisionist essay possible.
Such an author is in the position of a man who would prove that there was a recent war between Illinois and Indiana by scouring the countryside for spent firearms casings. It is not necessary to play his game of dropping all historical context in order to focus on a purely local matter, but a review of his book can do naught else. Nevertheless, I shall show that the objection that Pressac has dropped context holds even if we agree to play his game. That is, given the restriction of his view to Auschwitz, Pressac still focuses on local matters out of context, this time of the concentration camp in its full dimensions.
In my view, page 184 of Pressac's book is crucial. Here we are told:
Pressac expects the reader to assume, as he does, that such great cremation capacity could, of course, only be to support an extermination program. Accordingly, he goes on to invite us “to imagine a village of 4,000 inhabitants with … a crematorium equipped with three 3-muffle furnaces… We need not dwell on this picture.”
This point is repeated and emphasized elsewhere in the book. Regarding the crematoria, Pressac writes: “Their capacity was excessive in relation to the real needs of the camp.” (Pressac's emphasis) He argues that the cremation capacity was excessive for a normal community of this many residents. However, nobody maintains Birkenau was a normal community. Indeed, I once conceded that it could properly be called a “death camp."
In making his argument, Pressac tries to ignore the catastrophic typhus epidemics at Auschwitz — an impossible task because the documents emphasize the importance of this matter. The first catastrophic epidemic — during the summer of 1942 — is not mentioned at all by Pressac on page 184 of his book, which is devoted to arguing (or at least asserting) that a decision was made in spring-summer of 1942 to launch an industrial extermination of the Jews, and to expand accordingly the capacity of the cremation facilities then under construction.
Consider how horrible and devastating the summer 1942 typhus epidemic at Auschwitz was. The number of recorded male deaths in the period July 1 through August 19, 1942, was 8,236. The records for female deaths in the period are not available, but judging from the registration numbers the female camp population was about 25 percent of the male. Therefore, the combined male/female recorded deaths for the period July 1 through August 19, 1942, was about 10,000. The Höss order of July 23 quarantining the camp was a necessary response to an extraordinary situation. These are the events that Pressac ignores as he considers, on page 184 of his book, the changes in crematorium construction plans that were made in summer 1942. He invites us “to imagine” an ordinary village in considering these crematoria. Why should one try? What Pressac would have us ignore at this point is the virtual hellhole of catastrophic epidemic at Auschwitz. Dishonesty on this scale is rare; only a spinner of the Holocaust yarn could hope to get away with it.
At first I considered this a most shocking instance of intellectual dishonesty. Continuing to read, I noted that on page 187 he does mention the typhus epidemic, and then, on page 188, I found the prize of the whole book. On that page Pressac finally offers a relation of the measures being taken at Auschwitz against typhus to the alleged extermination of the Jews. He wrote there: “… The SS used the extermination of the Jews, about which their superiors had a general knowledge, without being informed of the practical details, to hide the terrible hygienic conditions in the camp, and to cover up their enormous consumption of gas for disinfestation purposes.” (Pressac's emphases.) The SS therefore must have hidden the catastrophe from Himmler during his visit to the camp on July 17-18, 1942. (My guess is that Himmler suggested, or at least informally approved, the quarantine order that was issued on July 23.)
Because the typhus epidemics cannot be ignored, Pressac mentions them on subsequent pages. On one he notes, “it was necessary at all costs to stop the epidemic,” while on another he ludicrously writes that in mid-September, almost two months after the quarantine order, “the deaths caused by the typhus epidemic were becoming a real problem” — the great understatement of the book. That which every minimally discerning reader will see, a presumptive link between the epidemics and crematoria construction, is evaded. Here Pressac argues an extraordinary role for the crematoria by maintaining that final approval for construction rested with the RSHA (the security/police branch of the SS), rather than the WVHA (the camp administration agency). If true, all that is indicated is some procedural point, or perhaps the generally acknowledged inequality of the two departments. Pressac makes no effort to convey the full horror of the typhus epidemic of 1942. These reluctant admissions of a typhus catastrophe amount to evasions performed in order to strengthen, in the reader's mind, the “industrial extermination” interpretation of the crematoria. Pressac in fact thus engages in whitewashing the true horrors of Auschwitz.
Pressac's reluctant and dispersed acknowledgment of the typhus epidemics could be viewed as yet another instance of a feature that has bothered every reviewer of the book: its poor organization. Many times I have come back to the book to reread some point I remember having read somewhere, only to find that the point is not at all where, logically, it ought to be, but rather in some unexpected place. Normally such a lack of organization would be due to sloppy craftsmanship, and would be rightly regarded as a nuisance that does not carry argumentative weight against the author's analysis. Further on, I will offer another interpretation of the poor organization that does carry such weight.
(I wonder if Pressac's evasions should be viewed as “dishonesty.” If I were to put on an odd-looking hat like the one that Napoleon wore, and then go around claiming to be the French emperor, would that be “dishonesty"? That is, when the disguise is easily seen through by anybody not eager to self deceive, should that be regarded as a disguise at all? Pressac may be king of the clowns; he is not king of the hoaxers.)
Pressac does not bother to consider the notion that the camp's large cremation capacity was appropriate for the epidemic conditions. I have previously made the following point, but in view of Pressac's book it seems necessary to belabor it. In considering cremation capacity, it is difficult to reach conclusions on a purely technical basis because of the distinction that must unavoidably be made between what is physically possible and what is practically attainable. For example, although I am told that my car can move at about 100 miles per hour, I know I cannot drive the 20 miles that separates my home in Evanston from the University of Chicago in twelve minutes; too may obstacles intervene. The technical data provides two numbers from which only an irrelevant conclusion can be drawn, whose only value is that the arithmetic is correct.
Pressac cites some documents on cremation capacity that he admits could not relate to practical conditions. In the case of the crematoria in the concentration camps, the two main obstacles to such apparently simple calculations are (1) that the cremation equipment was not — and could not have been — used continuously, and that, (2), as I have noted elsewhere, the camp inmates who routinely operated the crematoria were normally “working with a lethargy taught them by the Russians."
Although the term “extraordinary” is applicable when referring to numbers, I shall henceforth term as “ordinary” those camp deaths from non-homicidal causes, mainly disease but including execution for specific offenses, virtually all of which were at some point recorded in German documents and which are admitted by all sides. (Some of the “ordinary” deaths that occurred in 1945, during the chaos of the final months of the war, were not recorded).
An “extermination camp” is then a hypothetical camp where unrecorded deaths — in homicidal “gas chambers” — vastly exceeded recorded deaths. Revisionists hold that, while some German wartime documents may be lost, the ordinary deaths were essentially all the deaths, and that there were no “extermination camps.” Consistent with the extermination legend, Pressac would agree that all the deaths in such camps as Buchenwald and Dachau in Germany were essentially ordinary deaths. However, he would assert that at Auschwitz in Poland large-scale unrecorded “extermination” deaths of anonymous people were carried out, and that, consequently, only a fraction — perhaps one-tenth — of the total deaths there were “ordinary” recorded deaths.
What we need to do is consider the recorded death rates in relation to the cremation capacities. The most effective method, I think, is to compare the ("non-extermination") camps of Buchenwald and Dachau with the ("extermination") camp of Auschwitz in this respect. This is more convincing than citing estimates of the amount of time required to cremate a corpse. To return to the analogy of driving the 20 miles between my residence in Evanston and the University of Chicago, I must essentially disregard technical data about the speed capacity of my car and the distance between the two locations, and instead refer to experience — either my own or another's — to accurately estimate the time required.
If it can be shown that the cremation capacity in each camp was proportionate to the numbers of “ordinary” and recorded deaths in each camp, then there must be an assumption that the crematoria at Auschwitz played, and were intended to play, the same ordinary role as the crematoria at Buchenwald and Dachau (which by universal agreement were not extermination camps).
There are a few difficulties in such a comparison, but they are surmountable. For one thing, there is a lack of complete and formal documentation of “ordinary” deaths at Auschwitz, despite the widely publicized release three years ago by Soviet authorities of the Auschwitz “death books.” Coincidentally, in a review published in 1989, I gave figures that had been given to me by the International Tracing Service in Arolsen during my visit there in 1977: 45,575 recorded deaths in 1942, and 36,960 in 1943, with death books missing for 1940, 1941, 1944, and January 1945 (when the camp was evacuated). Although my information was not complete, it is — as we shall see — satisfactory for the present purpose. Another problem is the significance of the 69,000 deaths recorded in the death certificates of the (incomplete) “death books” announced by the Soviets in 1989. Fortunately, this is not important for the present purpose. I continue to maintain that the total number of “ordinary” deaths at Auschwitz from 1940 through January 1945 is “in the range 100,000-150,000, probably closer to the former, since the camp population was small in 1940-1941 and by 1944 the Germans had made some progress against typhus." As we shall see, this total is not the crucial point.
The totals for Buchenwald and Dachau, camps in Germany rather than Poland, are fairly well established. The International Tracing Service report of 1977 specified 36,550 for Buchenwald and 31,951 for Dachau. In each case, though, the figure does not include an undetermined number of “persons who died shortly before the liberation and during the evacuation transports."
The cremation facilities at the two camps are also fairly well known. Buchenwald had a six-muffle crematorium, installed in 1942, and perhaps two additional muffles installed earlier. Moreover, Buchenwald had access to the civilian crematorium that existed in nearby Weimar. Dachau had a two-muffle crematorium before 1942, when a four-muffle crematorium was constructed. We may therefore assume that Buchenwald and Dachau had at least six muffles each.
At first it may appear that, by comparison, Auschwitz had an excessive number of muffles: while the number of “ordinary” deaths at Auschwitz was about three to four times those at Buchenwald and Dachau, there were about eight times as many muffles. However, when the calculation is done correctly it can be seen that Auschwitz, in fact, had less relative cremation capacity.
The figures of total deaths at the two camps in Germany have entirely different interpretations from those for Auschwitz. The latter was evacuated under generally orderly conditions in January 1945. Consequently, the Auschwitz total, whatever it is, does not include “ordinary” deaths during the complete chaos of spring 1945. The worst period for Auschwitz was not 1945, but 1942, when its crematorium construction project was defined.
By contrast, most of the deaths in the camps in Germany proper were in 1944 and the chaotic first four months of 1945, during the disintegration and final collapse of German industry. Concentration camp personnel knew that any plans for fundamental expansion of cremation capabilities that might have been drawn up in 1944 stood little chance of being implemented. Indeed, such construction was scant in 1944 and 1945. All significant and effective decisions about crematoria construction were in fact made before 1944, and could have been determined only by conditions existing prior to 1944. Consequently, in order to judge German intentions regarding the construction of crematoria, we must look to the 1942-1943 period. Therefore, the incomplete figures cited here for Auschwitz are all that are required for the present purpose.
Available figures of “ordinary” deaths in the three camps break down as follows (it being noted that the figure for Buchenwald is only for the first three months of 1945):
The crucial years are 1942 and 1943 because those are the latest years that could be considered to have determined German decisions about the construction of crematoria in the camps.
The ratio of projected muffles to “ordinary” deaths is presented in Table 2. I have assumed 52 muffles for Auschwitz (46 for Birkenau and six for the Stammlager [Auschwitz I camp]), not because Auschwitz ever in fact had 52 operational muffles, but because the purpose of this calculation is to help interpret intentions in building the crematoria rather than capabilities actually attained. We see, in fact, that the ratio of cremation muffles to deaths somewhat disfavors Auschwitz: that is, it was decided that Auschwitz would be less well equipped with crematoria than Buchenwald and Dachau (two camps that, by universal agreement, were not extermination camps). Perhaps budgetary constraints excluded more crematoria for Auschwitz.
On page 184 of his book, Pressac readily interprets the summer 1942 decision to provide 46 cremation muffles in Birkenau as a phase of an extermination program. In doing so, however, he ignores the figures of ordinary or recorded deaths (given here), which contradict his interpretation. The decision to shut down Crematorium I, with its six muffles, in the Auschwitz main camp [Stammlager] is, therefore, from Pressac's point of view, inexplicable.
Actually, the entire story was unravelled at its beginning by Heinrich Himmler, who stated on April 21, 1945:
In order to put a stop to the epidemics, we were forced to burn the bodies of incalculable numbers of people who had been destroyed by disease. We were therefore forced to build crematoria, and on this account they are knotting a noose for us.
Unfortunately Himmler did not live to say this at the Nuremberg trials. It is scandalous that it still has to be said in 1992.
With regard to Pressac's efforts to find a homicidal gas chamber in (Birkenau) Crematorium II, I refer the reader to Faurisson's critique. In his effort to prove a thesis, the falsehood of which is (or should be) obvious at the outset, Pressac in fact plays down or simply ignores the decisive facts. Nevertheless, he claims that it is we who are “maniacs who spend their lives trying to demonstrate that something never existed."
In The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, I considered a widely-cited document dated January 29, 1943, in which Karl Bischoff, head of the Auschwitz construction department, reported to Hans Kammler, head of the SS engineering office in Berlin, on the operational status of Crematorium II:
The Crematorium II has been completed — save for some minor constructional work — by the use of all the forces available, in spite of unspeakable difficulties, the severe cold, and in 24 hour shifts. The fires were started in the ovens in the presence of Senior Engineer Pr_fer, representative of the contractors of the firm of Topf and Sons, Erfurt, and they are working most satisfactorily. The formwork for the reinforced concrete ceiling of the mortuary cellar [Leichenkeller] could not yet be removed on account of the frost. This is, however, unimportant, as the Vergasungskeller ["gassing cellar"] can be used for this purpose…
In his book, Pressac wrote that my interpretation of the term Vergasungskeller “though perfect in its literary form, was technically worthless." He interprets the term Vergasungskeller in this 1943 document to mean a homicidal gas chamber, and made this number one in his list of 39 “criminal traces” of extermination gassings at Auschwitz. I would now say that although my translation of the term was technically correct, Pressac showed that, in this case, my interpretation was not correct. However, Pressac's interpretation is also incorrect, as shown by the evidence he himself reproduces. It is necessary to consider this matter in detail.
The two important German words in this regard are Begasung, treatment with a gas, and Vergasung, gasification or conversion of something into a gas, even in the loose sense. (For example, the German word for carburetion is Vergasung.) Thus, although “fumigation” should normally be “Begasung,” for no clear reason German often allows “Vergasung” to substitute for “Begasung.” Thus, gas attacks in World War I were referred to as Vergasung, and professional fumigators often speak of their operations as Vergasung rather than Begasung. However it appears that Begasung never substitutes for Vergasung, and that a fumigation or delousing gas chamber is normally a “Gaskammer,” not a “Vergasungskammer” or “Vergasungskeller.”
Accordingly, the delousing gas chambers at Auschwitz were called “Gaskammern." These are the sorts of arbitrary conventions of usage, not deducible from a dictionary, that occur in any language.
Despite all this, the normal meaning of Vergasung, in a technical context, is gasification, gas generation, or carburetion. In view of that, and knowing that some cremation ovens were of a design requiring a combustible gas-air mixture to be introduced by blowers located outside, I interpreted the Vergasungskeller mentioned in the 1943 document as a place where coke or coal was converted into a combustible gas, mixed with air, and then introduced under pressure into the cremation ovens.
While this interpretation is not “technically worthless,” Pressac shows that it is not correct in this instance. His proof consists of (1) many engineering drawings of Crematorium II, in various stages of design, which show no such facility, and (2) engineering drawings of, and other technical data on, typical Topf company crematory ovens, which show that they were not of the design I assumed, and which used as fuel coke supplied directly behind the ovens.
On the basis of a newly discovered document, Pressac shows that the basement morgue (Leichenkeller), which was not available, due to the frost, was Leichenkeller 2. He thus concludes that the Vergasungskeller must be Leichenkeller 1, and that it was designated a “Vergasungskeller” in this document as a result of an “enormous gaff [sic] … the first of the 'slips' that SS and civilians could not help making” in the alleged preferred policy of not committing incriminating words to paper. While it is true that the normal German term for a homicidal or delousing gas chamber would be “Gaskammer,” “Vergasungskeller” is linguistically possible.
As noted by others, Pressac is in the strange position of claiming that a room consistently designated Leichenkeller 1 on all engineering drawings was to be used only temporarily as a Leichenkeller, either instead of normally as a gas chamber, or simultaneously as a gas chamber and a morgue. In the latter case the unsuspecting victims must presumably stand on the corpses. In the former case (the only interpretation worth considering), the implied delay in the use of the building for extermination was “unimportant,” a major contradiction if one claims, as Pressac does, that the primary role of the building was for mass gassing.
Because this document confirms that in January 1943 the Germans were working, under great pressure, to make this installation operational as an ordinary crematorium, I regard it as further evidence against the claim that it had been decided in the summer of 1942 that the primary purpose of these crematoria was extermination by lethal gassing. The use of the Vergasungskeller as a morgue not only did not interfere with bringing Crematorium II into operational status, it advanced it. Here I am arguing, in passing, for a focus on what the document says rather than on the term Vergasungskeller mentioned in it. I suspect that the realization of what the document really says is the basis for Hilberg's failure to make more than a hurried and superficial reference to it. Pressac, in effect, would have us ignore what the document says.
In any case, Pressac's logic in interpreting the Vergasungskeller as a gas chamber depends entirely on the assumption that there was a gas chamber in Crematorium II. Without that assumption we have the following situation:
The appropriate conclusion, I believe, is that the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium II at all. I assume that it was somewhere in the vicinity, but in the light of current knowledge the only basis for inferring that it was in the Crematorium building is an assumption that there was a gas chamber there. In the absence of the massive documentation presented by Pressac, it seemed logical to assume that the Vergasungskeller was located in Crematorium II. I made just that assumption in writing my book, and the assumption seemed confirmed for me by the observation that crematorium technology could call for such a facility. However Pressac has shown, without realizing it, that the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium II because it does not appear on the many engineering plans, and is not implied or called for by anything that appears on those plans. Only an unfounded or arbitrary prior assumption can place it there.
If the Vergasungskeller was not in Crematorium II, then the questions of what and where it was are only of limited importance. It suffices, I believe, to show that the term could have applied to operations that transpired, or may have transpired, elsewhere in the camp.
To give my favored interpretation first, it is unlikely that the town of Auschwitz had preexisting means for production and/or distribution of fuel or town gas sufficient for the needs of the huge complex of camps we call “Auschwitz.” Such needs could have been for cooking, heating, or incineration of waste, and so forth. On account of the paucity of natural gas, but abundance of coal in Europe, the Germans had extensively developed the gasification of coal. In the Auschwitz region coal was particularly abundant, so processes of coal or coke gasification were suited for the conditions there.
In offering my earlier interpretation of the Vergasungskeller as a fuel gas generator for the crematorium ovens I wrote: “The two most common methods of producing fuel gases from coal or coke are, first, by passing air through a bed of burning coke to produce 'coke oven gas' and second, by passing steam through the coke to produce 'water gas'." I now offer almost the same interpretation, but modified so that the specific location of the Vergasungskeller is no longer known, and the gas generated is for general application and not specifically for cremation. This seems entirely justified by the engineering plans that indicate no Vergasungskeller in the crematoria, by the great likelihood that the camp required fuel gas, and in view of the easy availability of coal there. Incidentally it is unimportant, from the present point of view, if such a Vergasungskeller were operational or only in a state of construction; only the possibility of its temporary use as a morgue is relevant. So much the better if such a facility was not yet operational, since then nothing would interfere with use as a morgue.
As I say, this is my “favored” or preferred interpretation, but there are a few other possibilities that are worth noting.
It has already been remarked that fuel gas generated in the camp could have been used, among other things, in waste incineration. That is, the fuel gas could have served as the auxiliary fuel. There is also a second sense in which “Vergasung” can apply to waste incineration, because the technology views the waste as a combustible fuel being turned into gases. Incineration (or Verbrennung) is actually a special case of gasification (or Vergasung) in which all combustibles are oxidized to the highest degree possible, for example, producing carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of carbon monoxide (CO, a combustible gas, in which case it would be said that Vergasung had taken place). Since perfect incineration does not exist in this sense, the line between Verbrennung and Vergasung can be blurred. What is termed waste gasification, or M_llvergasung in ordinary technical German, was developed as a practical process only after the war. It appears that during the war Vergasung could have been used in the waste incineration context only in the sense of one of many specific processes taking place inside a plant viewed as performing M_llverbrennung. Thus this second sense of application of “Vergasung” to waste incineration does not seem to apply, and it is very unlikely that at Auschwitz any waste incinerator would have been spoken of as performing Vergasung.
This possibility is nevertheless worth mentioning. There was a waste incinerator in what I would call the chimney housing behind the cremation ovens in Crematorium II. The effluent gases from this incinerator combined with the effluent of the ovens in sharing the chimney and the suction type forced draft system. I do not believe that the “Vergasungskeller” was this chimney housing because, apart from the reasons already given, it was not referred to as such on the drawings, and seems to have had insufficient free space to serve as a plausible temporary substitute for the huge Leichenkeller 2. All the same, it is at least worth noting that “Vergasung” could apply as an inclusive description for the two processes (cremation and waste incineration) involved there. However I do not consider a waste incineration interpretation of the Vergasungskeller a likely possibility.
In the vicinity of the crematoria at Birkenau there were three sewage treatment plants (Kl_ranlagen) in various stages of completion. Sewage treatment amounts basically to the acceleration of the natural processes in which bacteria metabolize solid waste into gases and inoffensive solids (sludge), and to the disposal or use of these products. There are several senses in which Vergasung could arise. A short outline is helpful:
Sludge gasification (Schlammvergasung) was a postwar development and is not relevant here.
In the technical literature, aeration of sewage is classified as one form of “gas transfer" because a specific biochemical effect of the oxygen is sought; the specific purpose of the aeration is to make the aerobic bacteria more vigorous. This biochemical motivation is so emphatic that I have seen the word “Begasung” used to designate Bel_ftung. In this connection I have also seen the terms “Bel_ftungskammer” (aeration chamber) and “Bel_ftungsschacht” (aeration shaft). Chlorination is normally accomplished by converting stored liquid chlorine to the gaseous form, that is, Vergasung, and then injecting the gas into the sewage or effluent, that is, Begasung.
In the anaerobic digestion of sewage a number of gases are produced (sludge gas or Faulgas), especially methane, which has various uses as a source of energy. This gas production is normally referred to, however, as Gaserzeugung rather than Vergasung. Moreover since the gas is produced at the top of a digestion tank, it is not likely that the process could be viewed as taking place in any sort of “Keller.” However, the process of useful gas production does not end there and there are sufficient complications to allow various combinations and hence appearances of diverse technical terms. After the digestion the removal of impurities, especially hydrogen sulphide, is required if the methane is to have practical use. The removal was normally via dry scrubbing in a “Raseneisenerzfilter," that is, filtering in iron oxide, as was common in the gas industry.
As already remarked, sewage treatment consists of the acceleration of natural processes, so gas production also occurs spontaneously in the very sewers before the sewage reaches a treatment plant. This process is called “Kanalvergasung” and was studied in Germany before the war. For example, there was a 1933 doctoral dissertation on the subject. Ventilation is often adequate to prevent unwanted effects, such as explosions, but in the event ventilation does not suffice there is the Gerlach device, which removes gases by suction and has both mobile and stationary versions. In this case the role of the plant is not to perform Vergasung but to counter it, that is, it does Entgasung because of the undesired Vergasung.
Sludge incineration was practiced in Germany since early in the century, but greater interest in this method of sludge disposal was aroused when large and economic plants were built in the USA during the Thirties. In this case “Vergasung” arises in the same way it did at the outset of this discussion, that is, in fuel gas generation, since the sludge cannot be burned without the application of some auxiliary fuel, at least for preheating. Indeed sludge gas is a highly convenient energy source in such a process. A postwar development was incineration using oil as fuel, in an “_lvergasungsbrenner."
I have not located the Vergasungskeller in the sewage plants. Rather, I have listed five senses in which generation of, or treatment with, a gas comes up in sewage technology. I have not found the term “Vergasungskeller” or “Vergasungskammer” in the German literature on wastewater treatment, but that is not necessary. The document in question was not written by a sewage engineer; it was written by a construction engineer for the information of another construction engineer, and the author never imagined that half a century later people would be poring over his hurried note. Nevertheless, I still favor the first interpretation offered, namely, that the Vergasungskeller was a generator of fuel or town gas intended for general use.
Only the study of complete engineering plans for the camp could settle this question. Alas, that may be difficult. Some of the documentation provided to Pressac by the Auschwitz State Museum (the Panstwowe Muzeum Oswiecim, or “PMO,” whose help Pressac copiously acknowledges) had earlier been provided to the Auschwitz State Museum by the Israelis. I assume the Israelis also have some documents they will not part with. In response to my inquiry for more information about the sewage treatment plants, the Museum replied to me, on August 26, 1991, that it “has several construction plans” of the plants, one of which is reproduced in Pressac's book, but that “abundant documentation on the construction of the sewage treatment plants in Birkenau you will find in the Central State Archives in Moscow.” Thus, precisely locating the Vergasungskeller may be a big job. At this point the only thing that seems assured is that the Vergasungskeller was not in the crematorium building.
On April 7, 1944, two Slovakian Jews, Walter Rosenberg and Alfred Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz-Birkenau after two years' captivity there. Their escape was reported on April 9 in a Gestapo telegram to Berlin and elsewhere.
Rosenberg and Wetzler are said to be the principal authors of the document on Auschwitz that was published by the US War Refugee Board in November 1944. Supplements to the report are said to have been contributed by two Jews (Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin) who escaped on May 27, 1944, and by a non-Jewish Polish major who also escaped. In writing The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, I thought the document, which I called the WRB Report, was important to the subject because it marked the first major commitment of an Allied power to the Auschwitz extermination claim.
A booklet published in New York in March 1944 with the endorsement of the US government's Office of War Information and the National CIO War Relief Committee, and purporting to be a compilation of reports about Auschwitz received through the Polish underground, illustrates what was being said about Auschwitz at the time. The camp is portrayed as a “camp of death” but not as a site of mass exterminations of Jews. Such exterminations are claimed, but only as taking place at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. This is an example of the failure of the Allies to claim that Auschwitz was an extermination camp even two years after its alleged attainment of that status, despite its being a huge and not at all secret operation. (The great extent of involvement by non-SS personnel ruled out secrecy for whatever transpired there.)
“Zyklon,” a widely available commercial insecticide and rodent killer, was used extensively at Auschwitz to kill typhus-bearing lice. Releasing hydrocyanic acid gas, it was used, for example, to fumigate clothes in delousing gas chambers, and to kill vermin in barracks and other buildings. Commandant Rudolf Höss emphasized its deadliness when not used properly in this “special order” of August 12, 1942. (Source: J.-C. Pressac, Auschwitz, 1989, p. 201)
Forty copies were distributed to officials throughout the camp. Höss warned:
Today there was a case of illness due to slight symptoms of poisoning with Prussic acid [hydrogen cyanide from Zyklon]. This makes it necessary to warn all those involved with gassings, as well as other SS personnel, that especially when opening gassed rooms, SS personnel not wearing gas masks must wait at least five hours and keep a distance of 15 meters from the chamber. In this regard, particular attention should be paid to the wind direction.
The gas now being used contains less [protective] odor additive, and is therefore especially dangerous.
The SS garrison physician refuses to accept responsibility for accidents that may occur in cases where SS personnel do not obey these guidelines.
A chapter of Pressac's book is devoted to arguing the essential accuracy of the WRB Report, despite various errors and contradictions that he notes (mainly the number and arrangement of the crematorium ovens at Birkenau).
The authorship of the WRB Report remains a problem, but not an important one. What is indisputable is that it came from the circle of Rabbi Michael Dov Ber Weissmandel in Slovakia, whose members claimed to have received the story from the escaped Jews. The five escapees allegedly did a lot of name changing. According to an article by Erich Kulka in a book published in 1967, in order to live under cover after escape, Rosenberg became Rudolf Vrba, Wetzler became Josef L_nik, Mordowicz became Petr Podulka, and Rosin became Jan Roh_c. Rosenberg remained Vrba after the war, and at present is on the Faculty of Pharmacology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. The other three Jews might have dropped their aliases, although Wetzler retained L_nik as a literary pseudonym.
In his 1967 article, Kulka did not mention the Polish major, who is sometimes identified as a Pole named Jerzy Wesolowski who escaped and changed his name to Jerzy Tabeau. In a 1964 article, Auschwitz State Museum (PMO) official T. Iwaszko mentioned Wesolowski/Tabeau, reporting that he was registered as prisoner No. 27273 on March 26, 1942, escaped from the camp on November 19, 1943, and made some contributions to underground literature, but Iwaszko did not quite make him a Polish major. In 1979 John S. Conway wrote that the Polish major's “identity has not been revealed thus far. It is also not known by what route this last section of the report fell into the hands of the Jewish leadership in Geneva." In his 1981 book, Auschwitz and the Allies, Martin Gilbert mentions that the report of the “Polish major” was appended in June 1944 to the reports of the Jews by Richard Lichtheim of the Geneva office of the Jewish Agency. Oddly, in a television documentary based on Gilbert's book that was made a few years after its publication, we see the Polish major's face but do not learn his name. In a 1985 article mainly about Rosenberg and Wetzler, Kulka mentioned Tabeau only as an escapee from the gypsy (sic) camp at Auschwitz and then, in a 1986 article very similar to the 1985 one, Kulka identified the Polish major as Wesolowski-Tabeau.
The WRB Report contains a major contradiction of Pressac's version of the extermination thesis. Not surprisingly, Pressac ignores this contradiction. According to the Report, there were no gassings at the Stammlager [main camp] (identified as “Auschwitz,” as distinct from “Birkenau"). This is not stated explicitly in the WRB Report, but it is clearly implicit. Gassings are portrayed as taking place only at Birkenau or in the birchwood ("Brezinsky") or the “bunkers” near Birkenau.
Wetzler's part of the WRB Report says he was sent to Birkenau immediately on arrival on April 13, 1944. However, Vrba and the part of the WRB Report attributed to him say he was quartered at the Stammlager [Auschwitz main camp] from arrival on June 30, 1942, even while working at the Buna plant (Monowitz [or Auschwitz III]), until he was transferred to Birkenau in December 1942. In his postwar book, Vrba presents himself as being deeply involved in resistance activity and says that Wetzler's “knowledge of the camp was deep and wide,” on account of his great popularity. Although I would be the last to believe Vrba, the point here is that the authors of the Report had extensive and detailed information about the camp. There is much in the Report that confirms this, such as the mention of the quarantine order of July 23, 1942, the general layout of the camp, and a rough correspondence of the listed transports and registration numbers with the presumed correct ones. As I wrote long ago, “One must assume that much of the material in the report is true… there is no question of the competence of the authors of the report." The authors were acquainted with the interior of the camp (although not, as Pressac acknowledges, with the interior of the crematoria at Birkenau).
Thus Pressac should confront a major contradiction here. Pressac notes various contradictions in the testimonies of the usual alleged eye witnesses (such as Commandant Höss), but continues to believe that they were at least speaking of real events. However, if he is to accept the WRB Report then he must throw out (I won't say “we” because I did so long ago) the testimonies of the alleged eyewitnesses Höss, Fajnzylberg (Jankowski), Müller and Broad, since they claimed to have witnessed mass gassings at the Stammlager, and, according to Pressac the lack of documents and “the present state of the premises” make their testimonies the only “evidence to establish the reality of homicidal gassings at the Stammlager." This is not a contradiction of detail. By this I mean that one can no longer continue to hold that they were at least speaking of real events. Because they are so unreliable, their testimony on mass exterminations in other parts of the camp complex must be rejected. But because that testimony is no less reliable than the others, Pressac ought to reject all alleged eyewitness testimony. Thus, Pressac has a mass extermination program that was witnessed by no credible person.
As I said, we are dealing here with a “cornucopia of absurdities,” and it is easy to overlook the significance of this point, for which the question of the authorship of the WRB Report is unimportant. The sole objective of the well informed authors, in composing and propagating the Report, was to claim that Jews were being exterminated en masse at Auschwitz. It is a piece of war propaganda, and there is no obligation to believe such claims. Nevertheless there is no way that Pressac, or anybody else, may deny that if there had in fact been mass gassings in the [Auschwitz I] Stammlager, then they would have been spoken of in the WRB Report. Therefore there were none. And yet the testimonies for the Stammlager are equivalent, in terms of credibility and the circumstances under which they were delivered, to the testimonies of mass gassings in other parts of the camp complex.
In contemporary exploitation of the affair of the WRB Report, Vrba is really the star. Since he first publicly identified himself as Rosenberg (probably in 1958), he has published a book (in 1964) about his wartime experiences, I Cannot Forgive, testified at the first Zündel trial in Toronto in 1985, and appeared on various television documentaries. Vrba is obviously lying about experiences at Auschwitz. This can be seen by examining his book and by considering his 1985 testimony in Toronto that his book is only “an artistic picture … not a document for a court." I have previously noted the major factual errors of his book: his belief that there were virtually no escapes from Auschwitz before April 1944, and his claim that there was an air raid on Auschwitz when he escaped in April. Actually, the first air raid was on August 20, 1944.
I also remarked that “the general tone of [Vrba's] book and his description of how various people behaved” further demolish his credibility, if that were possible. I did not give the best examples in my book out of fear that I might not be believed, but here I will mention some of these fantasies. Vrba claims, for example, that at the Novaky camp the Slovakian guards would hold a rifle muzzle on the tummy of a poor persecuted Jew when he was sitting on the potty, while at Auschwitz he had “seen twenty dollar bills used as toilet paper." He means US twenty dollar notes, not German mark notes. Poetic license permits a dramatist of the john at Auschwitz to depict a pistol being held against the head by a Gestapo colonel, who would politely hand the Jew a twenty when done — which is no more incredible than what Vrba actually wrote. (Incidentally, scatological fantasies are also a striking feature of the Talmud.)
On the other hand, Vrba's description of the rackets run by the SS and inmates in charge of the “Kanada” section, “the commercial heart of Auschwitz" where inmates' possessions were stored, seems unusually candid to me, however embellished with inanity.
I note with gratitude that the Wetzler/L_nik book about Auschwitz is frankly acknowledged to be a novel.
Because I had focused on Vrba in my book, in 1979 John S. Conway, a historian and colleague of Vrba at the University of British Columbia, published an article on the WRB Report. In 1981 Conway also published a German text of the WRB Report, and, in 1984, he published an article relating to the WRB Report (and particularly to Rudolf Vrba) and Hungary.
Conway was overdue for criticism. In his 1967 article, Kulka had not criticized Vrba's 1964 book, but by 1985 Holocaust revisionism was in full vigor. Kulka scolded Conway for being willing “to accept uncritically and as fact Vrba's distorted statements” and complained that Vrba's “contradictory and problematic statements [have been] misused … to prove that the [WRB] report was a distortion and that the description of the gas chambers in Auschwitz were simply a figment of the imagination."
I would have thought that, as a result of his admission in 1985 that his book was not true, Vrba would have been finished as a player in the travelling Auschwitz show. However, it is a sad commentary on the present state of public controversy that the silly thing was actually reissued in 1989, with certain supplements, under the title 44070: The Conspiracy of the Twentieth Century. It appears that the original text, with all its inanities, was reproduced in this new edition. There were also additions as appendices. The part of the WRB Report attributed to Wetzler and Rosenberg is reproduced, there is an appendix on “trials of Auschwitz SS-officers,” there is an essay by Vrba on the economic aspects of the German persecutions of the Jews, a short vita of Vrba (not mentioning “Rosenberg"), and an essay by Conway, drawing from and supplementing his 1979 article.
Nowhere in the new edition is there an attempt to correct, explain or apologize for the inanities and factual errors in the original edition of the book, or for Vrba's 1985 admission that the book was only “an artistic picture,” that is, not true. Conway does not hint at any problems, or at any of the criticism he received for his gullibility with respect to Vrba. He does not apologize for his implicit endorsement of a book that all sides, including Vrba, have told him is not true. It seems that he will not or cannot learn. Nor will the publishers of Holocaust literature learn; there seems to be an assumption among them that critical examination of this literature is unnecessary. They seem quite willing to slap between covers almost anything as long as criticism is confined to relatively esoteric writings.
In 1990 Vrba was squabbling with Raul Hilberg, Shmuel Krakowski of Yad Vashem, and Yehuda Bauer over numbers exterminated.
To return to Pressac, his blindness to the implications of the WRB Report is the rule for his whole work. I have heard revisionists speak as though Pressac's work is a respectable historical effort. The basis for this is easy to see. Having the support of influential people eager to help, Pressac was able to make available to the public documents, mainly of an engineering nature, that had previously been in the category of extreme esoterica, either unknown or known only to a few researchers.
We are better off on account of the book, but the gain is comparable to, say, the publication of an index or bibliography. The value is purely in the factual information. The analytical part of the book is a transparent charade by an actor who is confident in advance that the people he is serving will cooperate in the sham, and will not call attention to the obvious disguise that renders him, in fact, a clown in the eyes of his targets. How else can we react to a man who insists on treating as irrelevant, at a time when it was decided to build large crematoria, the fact that there was a documented catastrophic death rate? Even Pressac's formal sin on this point, of presuming that which he is trying to prove in order to find “traces” of it, is minor compared to the comedy of his ungainly pirouetting around and away from the central points.
I began this paper with a promise to show how Pressac seeks to have his reader focus entirely on local matters while ignoring the context of the Auschwitz concentration camp in its full dimensions. I have shown three specific important senses in which this is true. First, in his treatment of the decisions to build crematoria at Auschwitz he fails to acknowledge the relevance of the catastrophic typhus epidemics that prevailed at the time of the decisions. Second, his “criminal trace” number one is a highly questionable interpretation of a single word occurring in a document that disproves, or at least renders implausible, his major claim. Third, his discussion of the WRB Report disregards the account given there, and consequently the decisive consequences of that account in evaluating the reliability of the so-called witnesses, in favor of a focus on a very picayune detail.
One should ask: how are such procedures possible in a work as replete with documentary detail as this bulky tome? That is what the notorious disorganization of the book contributes; it is a means of avoiding a focus on the simple essentials. The disorganization is there not because of the bad style of the author, but because of the bad logic applied by the author and desired of the reader.
It is fair to say that one message of Pressac's book is that, yes, the revisionists and particularly Faurisson are right in their rejections of the traditional or accepted evidence for homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz. He does not put it that bluntly, but it is there. He then claims that he, almost half a century after the alleged events, has finally gotten the evidence right. The procedure is the usual one; flip through the mountains of documents, rejecting all clearly exculpatory material as the result of deceptive German practices in keeping written records and then, when something that can be given an incriminating interpretation is found, declare it an “enormous gaff(e)” of an unintended confession.
I think I could do the equivalent for any establishment or agency that generates voluminous written records. In these days of “affirmative action” in employment, perhaps I should look for Northwestern University's gas chambers for white males, while taking the precaution of developing an explanation why I survived. Likewise, a future Pressac can concede that our Pressac is wrong, but that he has finally gotten it right. Thus this game can go on forever; it represents the future, if there is one, of the legend, and remains the only kind of anti-revisionist essay possible.
From The Journal of Historical Review, May/June 1993 (Vol. 13, No. 3), page 23.
Arthur R. Butz was born and raised in New York City. In 1965 he received his doctorate in Control Sciences from the University of Minnesota. In 1966 he joined the faculty of Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), where he is now Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. In addition to numerous technical papers, Dr. Butz is the author of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (available from the IHR for $9.95, plus $2.00 shipping).