[verbatim trial transcripts]
Wednesday January 26, 2000
Author tells of "massive" proof for gas chambers
The author of a book on Auschwitz told the high court yesterday that there was a "massive amount of evidence" of the use of the camp as a site for mass extermination.
Robert van Pelt, professor of architecture at the university of Waterloo in Canada and author of Auschwitz, 1270 To The Present, said evidence had become slowly available during the second world war through reports from escaped inmates.
It had become more substantial through witness accounts immediately after the camp's liberation and was confirmed by Polish forensic investigations in 1945-46 and the confessions of German camp personnel. He said it was "highly implausible" that the existence of the gas chambers was a piece of "atrocity propaganda" fabricated by the British.
The evidence that Auschwitz was equipped with gas chambers which were systematically used between 1942 and 1944 had "emerged cumulatively from a convergence of independent accounts". It had become possible to assert as "moral certainty" the statement that Auschwitz was an extermination camp where the Germans killed around 1m people with the help of gas chambers.
Prof van Pelt was giving evidence for Deborah Lipstadt, an American academic, and Penguin Books in their defence of a libel action brought by the historian David Irving. The 62-year-old author of Hitler's War is seeking damages over a claim that he is a "Holocaust denier" in Professor Lipstadt's 1994 book, Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory.
Mr Irving, who is representing himself before Mr Justice Gray, denies the systematic extermination of Jews in gas chambers. Accused by the defendants of being "a liar and a falsifier of history", he depends on a 1988 report by a man called Fred Leuchter, who had taken samples from ruins at Auschwitz and concluded that there were never homicidal gas chambers there.
Prof van Pelt described crematorium two at Auschwitz - where he said 500,000 people had died - as the "absolute centre of the atrocity". Evidence for the killings included blueprints for building works, the buildings themselves, and accounts of camp officials and sonderkommandos - Jewish prisoners who worked in the crematoria.
He said that when he first saw the surviving original blueprints, he saw not just documents but part of "a state sponsored project to kill Jews". He agreed with Mr Irving that a historian had a duty to remain unemotional when looking at a document. "One's duty is to be unemotional and objective but also remain human in the exercise." The hearing was adjourned until today.
Wednesday, January 26, 2000