[verbatim trial transcripts]
Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Auschwitz death chambers 'a moral certainty'
BY MICHAEL HORSNELL
AN EXPERT on Auschwitz told a High Court judge yesterday that overwhelming evidence had accumulated after the war to show that a million Jews were exterminated there by the Germans. Robert Van Pelt, a Dutch historian, said that a convergence of testimony made it a "moral certainty" that the gas chambers were the main instrument of murder between summer 1942 and autumn 1944.
Professor Van Pelt was giving evidence in the libel trial brought by the Hitler historian David Irving, who denies the existence of homicidal gas chambers at the Polish camp.
Mr Irving is suing Deborah Lipstadt, an American academic, and Penguin Books, which published her work Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. He is seeking damages over a claim that he is a Holocaust-denier who has twisted history, which he says has ruined his reputation as an historian.
Professor Van Pelt told the court: "It will be clear that, by early 1947, there was a massive amount of evidence of the use of the camp as a site for mass extermination. This evidence had become slowly available during the war as the result of reports, by escaped inmates, had become more substantial through the eyewitness accounts by former Auschwitz inmates immediately after their liberation, and was confirmed in the Polish forensic investigations undertaken in 1945 and 1946.
"Finally, this evidence was corroborated by confessions of leading German personnel employed at Auschwitz during its years of operation." He added: "It is highly implausible that knowledge about Auschwitz was a wartime fabrication by British propagandists. In short, it has become possible to assert as moral certainty the statement that Auschwitz was an extermination camp where the Germans killed around one million people with the help of gas chambers."
The main source of his evidence had been from witnesses, but there was documentary evidence which showed that, although the numbers of Jews transported to the camp were known, it was also known that many were not given registration numbers there - an indication that they were murdered upon arrival.
Eyewitness evidence, the court was told, had been given by prisoners including Stanislaw Jankowski, Shlomo Dragon and Henryk Tauber, on gassings in the five crematoriums.Others had given evidence of how the gas chambers were demolished in late 1944 and January 1945 to destroy evidence.
Confessions given by leading German personnel at the camp included that of Pery Broad, an SS officer who testified to gassings and burning of corpses, and Rudolf Höss, the former camp commandant.
There was also the evidence from the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961, documentary evidence of the construction of the camp, including workers' timesheets, plans, photographs and scientific studies of cyanide compounds in the walls of the gas chambers.
Mr Irving, who maintains most of the deaths at Auschwitz were from natural causes and is conducting his own case, was told about a "field of ashes" from human remains, some of which had been thrown across icy roads to help the passage of vehicles.
The case continues.
Robert Van Pelt, who is attached to the University of Waterloo in Canada and served as adviser to the Auschwitz authorities on the reconstruction of the site, said under cross-examination that he had been "more than deeply moved" by his experience. "I was frightened. I don't believe in ghosts. I have never seen any at Auschwitz. But it is an awesome place and an awesome responsibility as an historian." Asked about the dangers of subjective analysis of Auschwitz history, he said: "One's duty is to be unemotional and objective but to remain human in the exercise." In a map of human suffering, he added, Auschwitz would be at the centre..
January 26, 2000