Note: This is a provisional translation of the article, and may contain errors.
Issues of Contemporary History
The Number of Victims of Auschwitz
New Findings Through New Archival Discoveries
In 1945, the Soviet investigative commission, a product of war propaganda, calculated four million victims of the National Socialist labour- and death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Under pressure, Camp Commandant Höß stated three million, then recanted. How many people actually fell victim to this singular act of mass murder could, up to now, only be guessed at. The first Holocaust historian, Gerald Reitlinger, estimated one million, but the latest research places the number at several hundred thousand less. Two new documents about the capacity of the crematoria now confirm the existing documentation concerning interments to the camp, thereby finally shifting the dimensions of this breach of civilization into the realm of the conceivable, and so only now becoming a convincing monument for future generations.
A KEY DOCUMENT providing information about the capacity of the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau has now been discovered. At the same time, a statement by Camp Commandant [Rudolf] Höß concerning their operating times has come to light. On the basis of this existing, but hitherto largely ignored documentation regarding those people delivered into this camp, it is now possible to compute more accurately how many people were murdered at Auschwitz. Let's say it up-front: half a million fell victim to the genocide.
Credit is due to Robert-Jan van Pelt, Professor of Architecture at the University of Waterloo in Canada, for this breakthrough. He came into prominence with his outstanding book "Auschwitz -- From 1270 to the Present", written in conjunction with Deborah Dwork. Van Pelt appeared as an expert witness for the defence at the London lawsuit brought by David Irving againt Deborah Lipstadt, who had termed Irving an Auschwitz denier. Pelt has just published a very important book on the preparation of his expert report -- with extracts from the document -- and the proceedings themselves.
Irving lost the trial, and indeed deserved to, because Irving, a successful author with a proven talent for research had increasingly aligned himself with the warped views of his Nazi cohorts, and he persisted, even in court, to hold to the absurd position that there were no gas chambers for killing people at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The arguments he claimed for the lack of capacity of Leichenkeller 1 [Basement Morgue No.1] of crematoria I and II were unconvincing. Judge Charles Gray found that, "no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that they were operated on a substantial scale to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews".
It was, in general, a rightful judgement. This is not the place to go into details such as that the existing documentation, namely documents concerning certain subsequent adaptations (e.g. induction openings and gas-detection devices), converting buildings not originally erected as such into "gas chambers", as well as the relevant eye-witness accounts, point rather more in the direction of trials being conducted in March/April 1943 for the utilisation of the Leichenkeller [basement morgue] for mass murder after completion of the crematoria in the early summer of 1943.
The trials evidently failed, because the ventilation was counter-productive and the expected masses of victims did not arrive in the following eleven months. The genocide that was actually committed evidently took place primarily in the two converted farm houses outside the camp; the foundations of the first, the "White House" or "Bunker I", have only recently been discovered.
More than 400 people at a time were driven into two rooms of this gas chamber, with a combined area of 90 square metres. This occurred daily, mostly in the evening, for one year from the spring of 1942. The "Red House", or "Bunker II", 105 square metres in size for a maximum of 500 victims, was probably in use from December 1942 until the cessation of murder by gassing on 2 November 1944.
The Schutzhaftlagerführer [Internment Camp commander], SS-Sturmbannführer Hans Aumeier testified on October 29, 1945. In November 1942, in strict secrecy, 50-80 prisoners where killed with gas in the Leichenkammer of the crematorium in the main camp. The next day, under utmost secrecy, Höß disclosed to him, and to the Camp-Gestapo-Chief Grabner, the Camp Commanding Officer [Lagerführer] Hößler, the Forced Labour Commander [Arbeitseinsatzführer] Schwan, and the camp physician, that he had received an order from Himmler via the RSHA "to gas" all the weak, ill or disabled Jewish prisoners to prevent any further spread of epidemics. Höß reported that he had performed the first killings the previous night and had thereby determined that the improvised gas chamber did not at all conform to their requirements. Hence gas chambers in the new crematoria at Birkenau were to be built as permanent fixtures. The whole thing would be a top state secret. Indiscretions or careless gossip would be punished by death, as those present, as well as further drawn-in accomplices, had to confirm in writing.
On the basis of their capacity, 350,000 people could have been murdered in the "Red House" or "Bunker II"alone within two years. Irving, of course -- and correspondingly van Pelt -- argued only about the basement crematoria [Krema I and II], even though there was a dramatic reduction in the death rate at Auschwitz which coincided precisely with their implementation, which lasted for a year, on account in fact of a Himmler order which initiated the purported "14 f 13" euthanasia action which also shut down the gas murders in the death camps established along the 1939 German-Soviet line of Demarcation, Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka.
At their trial session in London on 25. January, 2000 [transcript], the plaintiff [Irving] opened the cross-examination by complimenting the expert [Van Pelt] for his book on the history of Auschwitz: "It is one of the few books that I have read from cover to cover and it was a book that I found very difficult to put down." Then the two tore into each other over the question of whether or not the openings for the induction of Zyklon-B subsequently punched through the roof of the morgue during its adaptation were still visible (they are, which van Pelt did not yet know).
The second decisive issue was the question of whether or not a key document was a forgery: the letter of Auschwitz SS-Chief Architect Bischoff dated June 28, 1943 to the Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA) in Berlin in which he reported the completion of all four crematoria in Birkenau, the two large Lremas I and II each with 15 muffle kilns (combustion chambers for a corpse) as well as the two smaller ones, the only above-surface III and IV in Birkenau, each with 8 muffle kilns.. Bischoff hastened to confirm in this letter an, in practice, entirely unproven daily cremation capacity in I and II of 1440 persons each, and of 768 bodies each for crematoria III and IV over a 24 hour shift. totalling (including the old crematoria at the base camp at Auschwitz, which had however already ceased operation) 4,756 corpses daily. Irving failed to muster the necessary arguments to reinforce the, in this case, absolutely justifiable doubts about the authenticity of the document; Van Pelt's objections were more serious although also not absolutely convincing. The French expert Jean-Claude Pressac already named the letter "an internal propaganda lie of the SS" seven years ago.
Van Pelt, in his report on the trial, has now furnished to us two pieces of information of no less sensational character: These two sources, in connection with the already existing, but largely ignored material, allow us to calculate relatively precisely the total number of victims of Auschwitz. In his 570-page book Van Pelt has almost hidden these documents and barely interprets them, and he did not introduce them to the trial at all. They contradict his own his expert report, not that they substantiate Irving's case. Van Pelt starts by quoting a document which has to my knowledge not previously been cited in the literature -- which calls into question the Bischoff letter of June 28, 1943 as it cuts Bischoff's own figures by half.
According to this, a letter from Kurt Prüfer, the chief engineer at Auschwitz, dated September 8, 1942, was discovered in the archives of the crematorium company Topf & Söhne (now: Erfurter Malzerei und Speicherbau), folder 241. It was thus written nine weeks after Bischoff's letter and after the completion of the crematoria, and therefore incorporates the first operational results According to Prüfer, each of the crematoria I and II incinerated 800 bodies daily, and each of the two smaller III and IV burned 400, in other words a total of 2,400.
The actual burning time was one and a half hours in one muffle kiln, which was designed for the dignified cremation of a corpse and for the purpose of exclusively extracting that corpse's ashes. During a hypothetical 24-hour operation, each muffle kiln could have incinerated 16 bodies, 240 in the 15 muffle kilns of a large crematorium. If Prüfer quoted 800, he was probably assuming that, under concentration camp conditions, at least two corpses at a time could be fed into a muffle kiln simultaneously, and he was further rounding up the figures to at least 720 and 384 bodies respectively. In fact, one muffle kiln could hold up to three of the mostly extremely emaciated victims, in that case with a technologically-possible delay of 30 minutes each. Consequently, 720 corpses each could be cremated in I and II within 24 hours, together 1,440, and in III/IV, 384 (Prüfer says: 400), together 768. Precisely these were the numbers quoted for each individual crematorium in the June 28, 1943 letter of SS-Bauleiter Bischoff; thus they were actually doubled. However, according to Prüfer's report, 2,400 bodies could be cremated daily in all four crematoria combined, according to his previous calculation 2,208.
Of course, the crematoria were not in operation round the clock; in fact they broke down frequently. Crematorium I, started up on March 15, 1943, was already damaged after nine days. On July 18, its repairs were "approaching completion." On April 3, 1944 the repair of 20 oven doors of the two large crematoria was ordered and not effected until October 17. The chimney of crematorium III, operating from March 22 on, was already showing cracks on April 3, and it was unusable by mid-May. As Camp commandant Rudolf Höß reported after the war: "III failed entirely after a short time and was later not used at all. IV [put into operation on 4 April 1943, FM.] had to be repeatedly shut down because after four to six weeks the ovens or the chimney had burnt out"; from this arises for I an operation time of 509 days, 462 days for II, only 50 days for III and 309 days for IV, therefore 971 days in 15 muffle kilns and 359 days in 8 muffle kilns.
Van Pelt now delivers a second piece of surprising information with the publication of testimony by Höß during cross-examination before the Krakow court 1947: "After eight or ten hours of operation, the crematoria were unfit for further use. It was impossible to keep them in continuous operation." Averaging this statement, that is nine hours daily operation time, results in 18 incinerations per muffle kiln with three bodies each, consequently 270 in each I and II, together 540; in III/IV 144 each, together 288, thus totalling 828 per day.
The conclusion is simple: accordingly to the above, in Kremas I/II during the 971 days of operation, a total of 262,170 bodies could have been incinerated, and in III/IV during 359 days 51,696; a total of 313,866 dead incinerated in the crematoria of Birkenau. These still aren't all those who died at Auschwitz. According to Höß, until the end of November, 1942, 107,000 corpses from the mass graves where burned on pyres. Pressac challenges this number: he calculates 50,000.
The problem, so far unexplained and not even recognised as such is where did the victims of the particularly excessive gassings in the winter of 1942/43 until the beginning of operation of the crematoria remain, as well as 57,000 of the 100,000 unregistered victims who arrived at Auschwitz from December 1942 until March 1943; we can properly assumed them to have been burned in the open air, and Höß had included them in his testimony.
Therewith a total of around 433,000 corpses were incinerated at Auschwitz, not including the victims of the Hungary action (burned on pyres), but including the estimated 12,000 cremated in the old crematoria of the main camp. This figure corresponds almost exactly with the sum resulting from the deliveries to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp minus the transfers to other camps -- which is a profound confirmation.
According to Danuta Czech's "Kalendarium" 735,000 people -- not including the transports from Hungary which she did not include -- where brought to this criminal location. 15,000 were Soviet prisoners of war, of the remaining 720,000, 346,000, according to Czech, were registered, and thus recorded, while 374,000 were not registered. Czech concluded that these unregistered died in the gas chamber, a supposition for which however there exists no documentary evidence; there were refugees without registration numbers also living in the camp. Since the total of the registered amounted to 405,000, of the 374,000, who were initially interned without registration numbers, 59,000 must have been subsequently registered, so that 315,000 without registration numbers remained. 225,000 of the 720,000 were transferred to other camps -- Czech only notes one tenth of these. 58,000 were evacuated upon liberation of the camp and 8,500 left behind, so that 428,500 remained, a number which, including the prisoners of war, is consistent with the 433,000 dead from the partially estimated crematorium capacity: they were murdered.
If we accept that all 315,000 non-registered were killed by gas as "unproductive" (the numbers killed by other means should be added to those registered in the camp who were selected for death by gassing), it proves that the two farmhouses converted to gas chambers sufficed for the purpose. Only for the transports from Hungary in the early summer of 1944 did other death facilities have to be called in, perhaps the shut-down crematorium III or the gas vans that had already been deployed in Soviet territory by the Einsatzgruppen and in the Wartheland death centre, Chelmo by the Gauleiter Greiser with Himmler's, and surely also Hitler's, authorisation.
The fate of those deported from Hungary in 1944 deserves it's own examination. If we rely on Danuta Czech's information alone, 60 trains arrived at Birkenau from mid-May until the beginning of July. Each transport comprised 3,000 people, so that accordingly 180,000 would have arrived, of which, according to Czech, 29,210 received a registration number. 110,000 were transferred to other camps, 40,564 people, just in the month of October 1944 alone, were killed by gas, according to Czech.
These considerations lead to the conclusion that half a million people were murdered at Auschwitz, of which about 356,000 were gassed.
In recent years, the discussion concerning the number of victims of Auschwitz has gone around in ever wider circles and has so far not led to any result. Thus Wáclaw Dlugoborski, research curator of the APMO explains the deathroll in September 1998 in these words in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
Shortly after the end of the war it was fixed at four million by a soviet investigation commission, without inquiry. Even though doubts about the accuracy of the estimate existed from the very beginning, it became dogma. Until 1989, a ban was enforced in eastern Europe on challenging the number of four million killed; employees at the Auschwitz memorial site who doubted the accuracy of the estimate were threatened with disciplinary proceedings. 
On February 19, 1946, in Nuremberg, the soviet prosecutor Smirnov restated the four million count. Shortly thereafter, on March 11, 1946, Höß, who had been previously convicted of murder by the state court in 1924, was arrested. He was accused of responsibility for the death of around two million people. After three days of sleep deprivation,, torture, and being beaten after every reply, naked and forcibly intoxicated with alcohol, the first interrogation took place in the face of "overwhelming evidence". Höß himself related: "Even though I signed them, I do not know what is written in the proceedings. However, alcohol and whips were too much for me, too." At 2:30 AM he put with visible difficulty his signature to these sentences:
At Auschwitz according to my own estimate approx. [cca] 3,000,000 people died. As an estimate I assume that [das. sic] 2,500,000 of these were gassed.
If the conclusions reached in this study are correct, his statement should more realistically have read: In Auschwitz far more than 300,000 people were gassed and altogether 500,000 died. If two zeroes and a figure 2 are added, his converse testimony in the interrogation would have approached the Soviet numbers.
Under interrogation on April 1-2, 1946, Höß first stated 1.1 million killed, then again 2.5 million. Threatened with extradition to Poland and execution, Höß stuck with the figure of three million victims, in front of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, of which 2.5 million "gassed and burned", but he corrected this via the American prison psychologist and thereafter in his Krakow transcripts ("had the prosecution not intervened, they would have finished me off") as "much too high" to a figure of 1.13 million delivered to him "for extermination" in addition to "the smaller actions", therewith almost 900,000 closer to the conclusions of this study, although still, in detail -- exactly conforming to his original interrogation record --, hugely inflated. He stated approximately 110,000 victims for France -- in total 75,721 were interned. According to Höß, 95,000 came from the Netherlands, but it was 60,026, he counted around 90,000 for Slovakia, even though only 26,661 Slovakian Jews were placed at Auschwitz, for Greece 65,000 for 53,789 actually deported. Höß claimed 20,000 for Belgium supposedly 40,000 from Hungary, 250,000 from Poland (300,000 according to Piper) and 100,000 from Germany -- without Höß's or his Polish interrogator Jan Sehn's inclusion of Upper Selesia, but with Theresienstadt (together 69,000 according to Piper).
The unreliability of Höß's figures of "millions" is so profound that Martin Broszat simply omitted them when he published The Höß Papers. The missing passages read:
"Romania was designated as the next country. From there, Eichmann was expecting approximately 4 million Jews, according to the indications of his commissaries [ ]."
More than one zero too many: according to the "Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust" and the minutes of the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942, in 1940 there were only 342,000 Jews living in Romania.
Höß further: "At the same time, or meanwhile, Bulgaria, with an estimated 2 million Jews was to follow." This number is exaggerated by about fifty-fold: according to the minutes of the Wannsee Conference, there were only 63,403 Jews in Bulgaria in 1943.
By 1953, Gerald Reitlinger had already estimated the number of victims at Auschwitz at one million in total, of which up to 750,000 were murdered by gas, of them 550,000 to 600,000 were killed on arrival. According to Piper, 1,110,000 people died in the camp, of which 202,000 registered and 880,000 unregistered, among them 95,000 registered and 865,000 unregistered Jews. Admittedly, at 300,000 Piper's figure for those interned from Poland is probably grossly exaggerated. The number of survivors from Hungary is also unclear from his writing.
Citing the most recent research Pressac writes of 631,000 to 711,000 dead in total, of which 470,000 to 550,000 non-registered Jews were murdered by gas. With presumably 510,000 dead, of which probably 356,000 murdered by gas, this study arrives at conclusions which are not all that different. This result does not diminish the scale of the barbarism, rather it verifies it -- a hardened warning against any new violation of civilization.
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