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Letters to David Irving on this Website


Unless correspondents ask us not to, this Website will post selected letters that it receives, and invite open debate.

James Cowell asks for good archival sources, April 3, 2004, which answer the question, what did the German people know, and wheh did they know it?


What did they know, and when did they know it?

I AM a senior high school student and have to do a major research project on an area of historical debate as part of my extension history course. I thought I would look at the general German population's knowledge of the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities e.g. the Einsatzgruppen killings in the occupied territories.

I really admire your campaign for real history and strive to reach that same level of objectivity and truth in my final research thesis.

I wrote to you as I am having trouble finding reliable sources or texts on the subject. Quite a lot of the material is published by Jewish associations, who claim that the German population knew whole-heartedly what the Nazis were carrying out and assisted them in carrying out of the Final Solution.

I find this view rather extreme, as one cannot generalize on a subject such as this. I thought that you might know of sources, books or even have material that could assist me in my research.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for continuing my investigations I would really appreciate it.

James Cowell


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David Irving comments

THAT is a good basic question. Not many researchers drill down deep into the archives to find questions to the answers, what did people NOT know.

Only a few weeks ago I posted one interesting document, a report by the Warsaw Poles to British Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Jan 10, 1944, revealing definite suspicions about Auschwitz.

You can try five or six basic sources.

  1. The Gestapo security service (Sicherheitsdienst) carried out morale surveys -- eavesdropping by plain-clothes agents on bar room conversations, etc. -- to find out what people were thinking. These Meldungen aus dem Reich (there are similar series for Norway, France, Holland, etc.) are largely intact in the files of the SS (see the Guides to US National Archives, Microcopy T175). The originals are back in the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz now. K Boberach published an abridged edition of Meldungen aus dem Reich, and you can take it that he would not have omitted any Holocaust-related references found in these reports.
  2. In the files of the propaganda ministry are a few isolated documents referring to unrest caused by the deportations from Poland (i.e. the Generalgouvernement) of Jews and their subsequent fate, which was popularly rumored; I refer to these in my biography "Goebbels. Mastermind of the Third Reich".
  3. German soldiers' and civilians' mail often fell into the hands of Allied Intelligence, as the armies advanced, or ships carrying such mail were captured. Search for the reports on the contents of this mail. You will find some in the papers of Colonel Philps in the Hoover Library, Special Manuscripts Division, at Stanflord University California. No explicit references here to the Holocaust, at least in those summaries that I read.
  4. Read the real private diaries of Germans at the time. But make sure they are genuine, contemporary diaries, not rehashed for post-war publication. Not much reference to the Holocaust here either. (And don't believe the conformist waffle about people being frightened to write diaries in a dictatorship).
  5. Top secret documentThe closer people got to the front, the more they knew: See for this knowledge the overheard conversations of German (and Italian) prisoners of war, both high- and low ranking, in the Public Records Office in London: these CSDIC reports are mostly in PRO series WO.208. There are hundreds of thousands of these transcripts. I have posted some of them -- which answer your question -- on my website: they take weeks, if not months, to exploit, and I will eventually publish the best as a book; the knowledge of some German generals like Bruns and Kittel is clear. See too my index to interrogations relating to my forthcoming Heinrich Himmler biography, where you will find many conversations of prisoners aware of the atrocities on the eastern front, at Babi Yar and elsewhere.
  6. You might also try a newspaper search of newspaper indices: The New York Times, The Times (London) and other newspaper of record have useful indices: this will tell you what the rest of the world knew about what was going on (often grossly inflated for propaganda reasons). Look at the period around September/October 1942, particularly.
  7. The BBC Monitoring Service [find them now at] published voluminous daily reports on broadcasts from Axis and Allied transmitter; but these would take immense wading through, and I don't think there is any index.
  8. Finally, the British carried out their own regular morale surveys, and circulated top secret letter-censorship reports which reflected not only what members of the British public were writing to one another, but also foreign letters that passed through British hands: there are several quarterly surveys on "The Jewish Problem" based on this source, and although they are widely scattered they are of extraordinary source value, as they are based on the bedrock of original letters written by ordinary people.
       The letters written by Jews in England and elsewhere to Jews in Palestine are particularly revealing on the subject of such knowledge, and there are even one or two such letters from people in Germany, which have somehow made it to the outside world. I refer to these reports in my book "
    Churchill's War", vol. ii: "Triumph in Adversity". Check the source notes, I am afraid I don't have time to do all your homework for you.

Having said that, you may find one or two published sources addressing the same questions, What did people know, and When did they know it? I believe that Martin Gilbert, an otherwise undistinguished historian, has published a book on this very topic (he is an obsessive Holocaust historian, but a conformist. So expect no original thinking from Gilbert).

As for the non-conformists, try for general information. Another good starting point would be the news bulletins of the Polish Press Agency in New York, or the Jewish Telegraph Agency during the war -- that would also show what people really knew. Have a look at my Auschwitz index (and don't forget the previous Auschwitz index) and get back to me if you need more pointers.


© Focal Point 2004 David Irving