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Posted Saturday, March 10, 2007

Here as elsewhere, according to conformist history, the Nazis did a thorough job of erasing all trace that they had ever been here.

Road to Sobibor

click for originMarch 7, 2007 (Wednesday)
Wlodawa - Sobibór - Lublin - Warsaw (Poland)

AFTER breakfast I set out with Alan to visit the site at Sobibór, seven kilometers away. He is nervousness personified. He is the only person I know who has felt-penned a web of cracks onto both wing-mirrors of his car to discourage would-be wing-mirror-thieves. That's Poland for you. The land of car thieves: "Welcome to Warsaw," goes the local joke. "Your car is already here somewhere."

His car boot is filled with leaky cans of diesel, which is good thinking. But he is surprised when I fold the black woollen overcoat I have borrowed onto the back seat, instead of consigning it to the car's boot, and he agonizes perpetually that somebody may steal it one night.

We drive out to Sobibór in weak winter sunshine through idyllic sandy pastures and then birch forests. The site is windswept and remote, another logging camp. Not an unattractive place to die, I remark to Alan -- because it seems clear that a lot of people have at one time died here.

Sobibor railroad station

Franz Stangl's villaNext to the little Sobibór railroad station, which has five or six tracks and sidings, there are two or three houses for logging workers, built in the post-war communist shoebox style. Three or four more houses face the little station, but they are all post-war. The villa occupied in 1942 by Franz Stangl and the other Sobibór commandant Franz Reichleitner, a green structure, is still standing here, its light green roof just visible above the railroad waggons.

Not far away, a modern museum building dominates the little parking lot, but it is open only from May to October. A few feet from the museum are loose concrete covers with iron handles, and there are possibly wells or cesspits beneath.

Like Treblinka, the site is set deep in the forest. Most of the trees are pre-World War II and deeper into the forest we find at least two man-made pits or depressions round the back of the site, each about fifty yards long, three yards wide, and two or three feet deep (see below), with much younger trees growing on their floor, only a few years old and flanked by much older coniferous trees.

shallow pits in Sobior forest

Here as elsewhere, according to conformist history, the Nazis did a thorough job of erasing all trace that they had ever been here after the camp closed, which was after a prisoner-uprising on October 14, 1943. One plaque rather oddly proclaims that "250,000 Jews and 1,000 Poles" (sic) were killed here. I suspect that the American Jewish Committee had a hand in the wording; they never did like each other.

The now familiar tasteless monuments mark what they estimated to have been the heart of the Sobibór site: one is a thirty-foot tall square tower with sides of crazy-paving slabs, innocent of any entrances or inscription, another is a statue built of three or four terra-cotta stone blocks piled on top of each other, and hewn roughly into the shape of a woman and possibly a child; a hundred yards or more away, between them and the pits we found, there is the main monument, a round shallow dome-shaped mound, evidently representing a heap of ashes, about a hundred meters in diameter.

The area is untidy with a litter of candles and receptacles, a beer bottle etc, left behind by the living visitors who have come to commemorate the dead. I am reminded of what Generaloberst Alfred Jodl wrote in his last letter from Nuremberg, "The dead march way out in front, followed by the living" -- voraus die Toten, dahinter die Lebenden.


THEY have now cleared a broad avenue through the forest, quite recently, and lined it with young firs -- they look like Christmas trees -- and small football-sized stones, each with a memorial plaque pinned to it naming a family's or individual's departure date from Holland or Germany and the date of their arrival here (presumably from transport records), the latest date I saw being July 1943, the earliest around March or June 1942; for example, there is one plate for a Louis de Jong and his family from Arnhem, Holland. They are mostly Dutch or German, very few Poles. No plates mark the sites of the alleged gas chambers. Alan points out one site, about twenty yards square, but I remark that there is a tree stump in its center that is clearly older than sixty years (which does not mean that the other clearings would not have been large enough).

Alan says he picked up bone fragments on earlier visits, but I doubt he has the forensic knowledge to recognize such things. The whole site reveals no forensic evidence of homicidal activities, to supplement the relatively strong documentary evidence which exists. Barbed wire has been found and archeological digs and probes have provided evidence of bone fragments indicating possible gravesites. They found 1,200 small-arms cartridge cases where the gas chambers were believed to be (possibly used to finish off survivors of gassings, it is surmised). They also found many such small-arms cartridge cases near the Lazarett (camp hospital).

These are on display in the museum, says Alan, along with photos of the camp's dramatis personae. The principal sources of information on its homicidal activities are Franz Stangl, the commandant here (and later at Treblinka), and survivors like Stanislaw Szmajzner and Thomas Blatt, and now of course the Höfle document.

Majdanek memorial

WE drive at a leisurely pace from Sobibór back to Lublin and by one p.m. we have arrived at its homicidal suburb, Majdanek -- the site of the vast Nazi prison camp straddles a gentle rise, and is clearly visible from the highway and city buildings. Alan explains that only the Nazi trustworthy and notables would have lived in the wartime buildings that are visible along the camp's fringe. (But would they not have employed local Poles as servants, cooks, valets and the like?)

The memorial area at Majdanek is as big as Croydon airfield, on a slope ascending to a monument (not that illustrated above) which looks like a giant flying saucer that has landed on a hilltop, marking where once the alleged gas chamber stood. Those alleged installations have now been relocated in a wooden building several hundred yards away, in the camp exhibition area, and are housed in a building identified on a fake wartime signboard as "Bad- und Disinfektion".

dissecting tableBefore going in there, we visit the crematorium and morgue: what a way to spend an afternoon. It is empty of people, and we prowl around.

An un-tiled cement dissecting-table stands in the middle of one room; I look for a waste-water outlet and find it between the table legs, which seems fair enough. The inscription on a plaque says that the table was used for extracting teeth and searching bodies for hidden valuables; which is less probable. The signs seem rather over-enthusiastic in their description of Nazi Schrecklichkeit, which is not helpful.

The four or five crematorium ovens, in a room that is deliberately dimly lit, do make a sobering display. I wonder how many victims this installation could have handled each day -- the rate would not be very high, I guess. It did not seem set up for mass operations.


It is all rather odd. The wooden part of the next building, the ominous "Bad- und Disinfektion" building, was fire-damaged a few years ago, when worshippers left burning candles. The rebuilding with modern creosoted woodwork has not added to the aura of authenticity.

hole in ceilinghole in ceiling, faked


THERE are some startling discoveries for me, however. The cement or concrete ceilings and walls (though not the floors), of these deliberately ill-lit rooms, identified to tourists as homicidal gas chambers, are remarkable for large dark patches, which are clearly visible to me, the familiar hue of Prussian Blue, stained into -- and in more than one case right through -- the walls; there are half a dozen such rooms, large and small.

window, blue stainsThese dramatic stains themselves are not remarked upon anywhere on the tourist information inscriptions. I would have broken away a small flake for laboratory testing had I been so inclined, but I was not. No doubt others now will. Besides, Alan was piously frowning.

There were puzzling features. One hole in the ceiling -- the suggestion is that the SS tipped cyanide crystals in through this hole -- is clearly of post-war etiology, as the reinforcing bars crisscross it; the concrete is only three inches thick, which seems thin for a load -bearing floor.

Moreover at least one of these blue-stained rooms has a large glass window about seven feet above floor level (see photo), which could easily have been smashed ("I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to stand over here by the window").

None of the text descriptions draws any attention to the blue stains. Alan has not noticed them before, but has photos from earlier years which he will dig out for me. Short of independent chemical tests being conducted on the stains -- shades of Fred Leuchter! -- I don't know what to make of them.

There is also a small room in this building containing two slim steel gas cylinders, no doubt provded for photographers to snap at: gas bottlesthe pipes leading through the wall appear to be newly cemented in.

Over-eager cosmetic surgeons have been at work on the site, as usual, and have forever damaged its forensic value. For example, one space identified as a gas chamber has no stains at all. Perhaps its walls have been newly rendered? Nothing would surprise me.

Unfortunately the official Majdanek site museum is closed, as was the Sobibór one this morning, as the tourist season proper has not yet begun.

There are several watch towers, including evidently genuine ones, perhaps renovated; which compare well with the fakes installed at Auschwitz. I remark to Alan that Poland could at least have put all these sites which we have visited under one body to coordinate such matters, like the National Parks Service, as the clumsy fakery does rather spoil the effect.

watch tower

WE DRIVE off toward Warsaw, and look for a restaurant with Internet to retrieve emails. Our six-day tour is complete. At three p.m. we finally find a lunch place that has Internet. There are seventy messages, including one from Benté (I phoned her from Majdanek briefly to say we're all right: she says that Jessica's school has agreed to reduce her fees by forty percent for this term and the next, in view of the shortfall created by my imprisonment in Austria, which is very nice -- the reduction, not the imprisonment.)

So my life gradually gets back to normal: a correspondent tells me that Deborah Lipstadt has wailed on her blog:

"Throughout his prepared remarks, Irving was pointedly careful to avoid even mentioning the word Jew. He was quick to respond to questions with his belief that he is actually a liberal. . . As some sort of proof, he offered up his belief that Franklin Roosevelt was America's greatest president."

Evidently a hard-to-please woman. Documentary producer Rex Bloomstein wants to start filming soon. He could have come with us; now he's missed the chance. A lady has sent me two Reinhard Heydrich documents for an opinion: I respond, "My professional opinion is that both documents are genuine, based on what you have shown me. In particular the signature compares well with his genuine signatures, and the documents are addressed to a little known official (fakes are usually addressed to well known, notorious figures)."

We arrive back in Warsaw in the late evening. I find a message waiting, from my daughter Beatrice in Brisbane, Australia: She is scheduled to give birth "at 8.30 a.m. Oz time today." I look at a clock -- that is at this very moment in Warsaw, Poland. At 8:48 I send this message to her husband: "I am in Warsaw, Poland. Please wish Beatrice all the best and [say] I have just opened the mail and am thinking about her now." Shortly, he comes back to me: "It's a boy."

So life goes on. I am banned by the Australian prime minister from visiting his country, and years may pass before I see my new grandchild. "We'll change the law if necessary to keep Mr Irving, out," that's what John Howard has said in Parliament. He knows which side his party's bread is buttered on


March 8, 2007 (Thursday)
Warsaw (Poland) - Budapest (Hungary)

At 11:10 a.m. I send congratulations to Beatrice in Brisbane: "Well done. . . What will his name be? I am telling everybody here of course, and I am very pleased. Well done to you both, and long may you and R. enjoy this new happiness. You've got a fine husband there."

At one-ten p.m. I leave Warsaw by plane for Budapest. It has been a very successful six-day tour of the Nazi sites, with some disturbing and interesting conclusions. So much could have gone wrong. We covered nearly two thousand kilometers between the sites.

Alan has been a real brick, and I am sure I got on his nerves. At Budapest airport I notice television cameras clustering on the far side of the arrivals lounge. MTV, Hungarian National TV, are filming my arrival.

My host is waiting for me. The TV people dog us out into the parking lot. They ask me why I have come to Hungary, and I reply -- quite truthfully -- for a visit to the dentist. And to get some peace.

"Have you an official programme?" they ask.

  [Previous Radical's Diary]

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