Letter from David Irving to
offering a critique of his book Auschwitz from 1270 to the Present
(Yale University Press)
May 29, 1997
To: Robert Jan van Pelt, Professor of Cultural History, School of Architecture, University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada N2L 3G1
Professor Pelt has not so far (March 1999) even acknowledged this letter or replied.
For a really insolent response to it from another hardened critic, see Jamie McCarthy's 1999 effort.
UNTIL 3:35:35 PM 5.8.99 an e-mail link to Van Pelt was provided on this page, in accordance with universal Web etiquette. These addresses are readily available in academic directories in the public domain. Solicitors for Penguin Books threatened Contempt of Court proceedings, and we have therefore removed the links. We apologise for the inconvenience.
Chicago, Thursday May 29, 1997
EXPECT YOU will be familiar with my name. I have been reading your book on Auschwitz with close attention over the past few days -- in fact I have made time to read it right through, from left to right. My attention was drawn to it by Dr David Cesarani's review of it in The Jewish Chronicle which made it seem -- I am sure this was not Cesarani's intention! -- to be a work of almost revisionist thrust!
Ninety percent of what you write is new to me -- by which I refer to the mediaeval history, the architecture, and the town-planning aspects of Auschwitz and its environs. What a fascinating study, and why did nobody before you think of building up to the grim centrepiece on such a broad canvas? A lot of it is familiar: the recurrent theme in your book is the prevalence over the centuries of lethal epidemics both in that marshy region and in the camps built there by the Nazis.
You are to be commended for your forthrightness. I notice that according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung you lectured to a function of the Institute of Cultural Sciences at Essen about the latest Holocaust research, and that you expressed puzzlement at oral testimonies by former Auschwitz survivors about a railroad ramp "which can not," you are quoted as saying, "have existed, according to every blueprint of the camp." You asked: "What was this ramp the Jews were actually recalling?" The session chairwoman Gertrud Koch is quoted as having rebuked you for Rationalitäts-Mystifikation and to have asked the rhetorical question: "What is the reality that one finds when one studies architectural plans?" The Süddeutsche Zeitung also mildly reproved you, suggesting that to "remember" means more than "burrowing into the web of Real History." I wonder what comment you might have on this odd episode?
Can I say straight away what is my major criticism of the book? It is clearly the work of two different authors -- you and you partner Deborah Dwórk -- and the raw contributions of each brain are sometimes painfully evident. I am not sure which is which (though I suspect you are the author of the architectural analyses -- the literally concrete evidence for much of the story which is otherwise shrouded in controversy.) This has produced some thought-provoking clashes in your conclusions, which tho' buried deep in the text are to my mind crucial to the malodorous controversy lingering around the Holocaust and Auschwitz itself.
In short, it is unfortunate that you found yourself harnessed as co-author to Dwórk and her easy-going reliance on sources like Danuta Czech, not to mention Filip Müller (page 179), Kitty Hart (page 193), SS Rottenführer Perry Broad, and even Felix Kersten (page 307). The latter's "diaries" are notoriously suspect: I tested their "medical Hitler" chapter many years ago against the touchstone of the original and only-just-found diaries of Professor Dr Theo Morell, Hitler's physician and inventor of Rusla-Puder, the anti-lice, anti-typhus agent, and decided that the published Kersten Diaries are worthless as a source; the real ones -- ah, that's another matter; but the Bonnier Bokförlag prevailed on the family not to release those.
You quote for example Kitty Hart's reference to "an SS woman": what, may I ask, was that? As for your quoting Rudolf Vrba (page 231) am I not right in thinking that he was very soundly trounced -- indeed exposed as a fraud -- during cross-examination in the trial of Ernst Zündel in Toronto? Moreover I am uneasy that you felt it safe to quote (page 234) a German judge in a post-war war crimes trial as a source (particularly since all his fellow-judges dissented from his opinion).
As for Broad, I expect you are familiar with his statements in British captivity (of which only an uncertified photocopy was available at the Auschwitz trial), and with his testimony at the I G Farben Trial about the crematorium in the Stammlager Auschwitz I -- "The roof was flat with six holes about 10 cm across, through which the gas was injected." The screams had lasted about two or three minutes, he said. Broad also spoke of flames from the open funeral pyres being visible from twenty miles away. (Hm!) Cross-examined in person during the later Auschwitz trial, Broad not unnaturally tried to disown these and other statements. You quote Broad on pages 301-- 2 describing, in a 1991 book of memoirs, the "effective gas chamber which could hold 900 people" in the main camp (i.e. Auschwitz I), but on pages 363-4 you confirm that there never was a gas chamber at Auschwitz I, and that the one shown to tourists since the war was a fake built by the Polish communists.
I welcome your disparaging references to Jan Sehn and his "official" Polish government investigation (page 276-- 7). But despite its high-falutin Latin name, in my view the Danuta Czech Kalendarium also cries out for exposure by some conscientious Ph.D. candidate, who might for example start by comparing its statistics with those generated by Richard Korherr in his well-known report for Himmler. The result of relying on the Kalendarium is that while one of you two authors decides, on the basis of the architectural and other evidence, that the Russian prisoners, ten thousand of them, died like flies in Auschwitz from the Nazis' bungled camp-design and planning (e.g., pages 271-- 2), the other, relying on Ms. Czech, regurgitates (pages 177-- 8) the view that hundreds were "gassed" in September 1941; and on page 292 your book, quoting with criminal negligence from a third-hand source, refers carelessly to "the liquidation of the Soviets". Can I draw your attention in this connection to the various testimonies sworn by that communist gadfly Kasimierz Smolen, the book-keeper and then (self-confessed) "kapo" at Auschwitz, and particularly to his affidavits sworn in Kraków on Dec. 15 and 16, 1947 (National Archives microfilm M.1019, roll 9).
I am quite prepared to accept that there may have been experimental "gassings" on a limited scale both at Auschwitz and elsewhere; Adolf Eichmann's papers which I was given in Argentina show that he himself witnessed one trial truck-gassing elsewhere, on which he was required to report to SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller, but even he was never shown a gas chamber at Auschwitz. I cannot help feeling that your colleague has relied unnecessarily, despite your many years of work and your excellent use of the blueprints from Moscow and Auschwitz museum, on published secondary and tertiary sources, which is a pity now that we have more than adequate primary documentary materials available.
HY DID you (or your co-author) content yourself with the Nuremberg volumes, with Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, and with memoir literature, when this first-class documentation is available? You rely on what others tell you about Heydrich's RSHA conferences in September/October 1939, when you could have read the full original transcripts in the Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, or in the National Archives, Washington DC. There are detailed reports of, for instance, the conference between Oswald Pohl, Maurer, and others at Auschwitz on June 16, 1944. You do not even refer to the ominous letter to Kammler dated January 9, 1943 (Nuremberg document NO-4473), about the construction of Krema 2 and the use of its Vergasungskeller (you could have speculated happily on the meaning of that word, and I would have drawn attention to the absence of any Nazi security classification on the letter).
Why did you make no use of the British (Bletchley Park) intercepts of the daily top-secret Tätigkeitsberichte submitted by seven KZ-Kommandanten including Rudolf Höss in secret cipher to Berlin from the spring of 1942 to February 1943, which give precise figures of mortality rates including colossal percentages for "natural" causes -- epidemics, typhus -- but very low figures for executions, and none at all for gassings? These signals also listed how many were Jews, Poles, other Europeans and Russians.
'The returns from Auschwitz, the largest of the camps with 20,000 prisoners, mentioned illness as the main cause of death, but included references to shootings and hangings. There were no references in the decrypts to gassing' (Professor Sir Frank H Hinsley et al., British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations, Cambridge, 1979-- 84, 3 vols., vol. ii, appendix, page 673).
Later that month, September 1942, further information did reach Churchill from his most secret sources lifting the veil on what was actually happening in Hitler's concentration camps. The ULTRA intercepts of their commandants' daily returns, transmitted in code to Berlin, yielded figures for death rates in several concentration camps during the previous month. These included twenty-one deaths at Niederhagen, eighty-eight at Flossenbürg, and seventy-four at Buchenwald; in what was evidently a fast-growing camp at Auschwitz in Upper Silesia there had been the notable totals of 6,829 male and 1,525 female fatalities during August 1942. There was a lethal epidemic now raging at the camp. 'It appears that although typhus is still rife at Auschwitz,' the Intelligence report pointed out, 'new arrivals continue to come in.'
Did you know of the documents NO-- 205, a letter from Victor Brack to Himmler, June 23, 1942, and NO-- 21(a)(b), a report from Oswald Pohl to Himmler, dated April 5 and May 9, 1944: these outline the security measures at Auschwitz -- Pohl reports that there are three camps; Auschwitz I has 16,000 prisoners, Auschwitz II has 15,000 male and 21,000 female prisoners, of which 15,000 are unfit for work (then why were they not, in accord with the standard version, cast into the "gas chambers"?) There are 15,000 more prisoners in the fourteen Außenlager (satellite camps) comprising Auschwitz III. Pohl states that there are 2,300 SS guards (Wachpersonal) for camps I and II.
While you make magnificent use of the blueprints in Moscow and the Auschwitz state museum, you fail to comment on one troublesome deficiency: the lack of any security-classification on these and the other SS construction documents. Those few documents in other archives which do hint at an uglier side to the word Sonderbehandlung invariably have the highest classification -- Geheime Reichssache, or Chefsache. Your blueprints are not even classified with the humble Geheime Kommandosache. (And for that matter both the Allied aerial photographs, and even your own illustrations of the crematoria, e.g. on page 332, testify to the absence of any barbed wire or other security measures around the crematoria buildings).
HIS CASTS reasonable doubt on the significance of the seemingly pivotally important Aktenvermerk of January 29, 1943, Brieftagebuch-number 22139/43/Swo/Lm -- you have this on page 330 -- recording a meeting between the AEG-engineer Tomitschek from Kattowitz and SS-Unterscharführer Swoboda of the Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung: while you rather irresponsibly said, in the BBC's "Horizon" programme on May 9, 1994, ("Blueprints for Genocide"): "It says very clearly: 'You will be able to kill and you will be able to burn simultaneously in this building,'" in fact the German text is rather less clear than that.
It reads -- I grant you somewhat opaquely -- :
"Diese Inbetriebsetzung [des Krematoriums II ab 15.2.1943] kann sich jedoch nur auf beschränkten Gebrauch der vorhandenen Maschinen erstrecken (wobei eine Verbrennung mit gleichzeitiger Sonderbehandlung möglich gemacht wird), da die zum Krematorium führende Zuleitung für dessen Leistungsverbrauch zu schwach ist."
I translate this as: "This commissioning [of crematorium II as early as February 15, 1943] cannot however extend to more than a limited utilisation of the existing machinery (enabling a cremation at the same time as Sonderbehandlung), as the power line leading to the crematorium is not strong enough for its energy consumption." The rest of the letter makes plain that the bottleneck is the shortage of cable, since this construction project has not been assigned sufficient priority in Germany's rigidly controlled raw materials rationing system. (Top priority at that time, Dringlichkeitsstufe DE, went to U-boats, V-weapons, etc).
Interpreting the document and its ominous word Sonderbehandlung purely in the way you do raises therefore fundamental problems -- to which there may well be simple answers; I shall be interested to hear:-
1. Are you suggesting that the Final Solution was of such low priority that SS-Gruppenführer Hans Kammler was not able to get the copper he needed to run a few extra yards of wire to his "gas chamber"?
OU HINT more than once at Adolf Hitler's personal knowledge of these crimes. You will agree that Hans Kammler played a key role throughout the development and expansion of the Auschwitz and Birkenau complexes. Yet on Mar. 31, 1945, Dr Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary, after speaking the day before at length with Hitler, "Kammler sei ihm [dem Führer] erst bei der Organisation des Einsatzes unserer V-Waffen überhaupt bekannt geworden" (Goebbels diaries, published German text, page 473). After effectively seizing control of the V-weapons in the summer of 1944, Kammler had taken over as Sonderbeauftragter des Führer for them in January 1945.
Now for Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz 1940-3. You happily quote the statement that he "signed" his affidavit confession in Nuremberg, when the original, in Washington, clearly shows that he did not (though the "witnesses to his signature" mysteriously did!) Had you explored that relatively easy avenue of inquiry further (Washington D.C. is a ninety-minute flight or a gorgeous all-day drive from Waterloo, Ontario), you would have found on the Natiuonal Archives microfilm M.1270, roll 7 several verbatim transcripts of the days of pre-trial interrogations of Höss and others early in April 1946. You (or Ms Dwórk) would also have found the fascinating (and frankly disturbing) three-way confrontation between Höss, an interrogator and the Gärtner and Genickschußspezialist Otto Moll, who bickers with Höss over their relative responsibilities for what you call the "bunker" killings.
Of course, analysis of such verbatim transcripts gives the game away about how the pressure was piled onto the prisoner, and how he was progressively "reminded" about things the Allied interrogators felt he might have "forgotten". The most graphic example is surely the unfortunate Mauthausen commandant Ziereis, who was somehow transported from life to the brink of death in U.S. captivity but had the presence of mind to time as well as date his "signed confession" in hand-writing, -- namely 2:30 a.m., a few minutes before he finally slipped over that brink into a well-merited eternity.
What incidentally is your authority for confidently equating Höss's mysterious location "Wolzek" with "[Sobibor]" (page 279); as you know, Höss's "Wolzek" has long intrigued revisionists. By the same token, you are wrong to state that Operation Reinhardt -- that's the correct spelling -- was named in memory of Reinhard Heydrich, assassinated in May 1942; it was rather more mundanely named after the Staatssekretär Fritz Reinhardt, the civil servant in the Reich finance ministry in charge of exploiting the assets of deported, deceased, and murdered Jews.
Had you after visiting Washington flown on to London, England, you could have used the many versions of the hand-written memoirs of Höss's erstwhile stand-in and deputy Kurt Aumeier (written under similar conditions of duress; he too was, no doubt deservedly, hanged by the Poles). These pencilled papers are held at the Public Records Office. But Aumeier does not even figure in your history. Is not such an original document, written at or near the time, worth ten times what a Kitty Hart or Primo Levi writes for payment for profit-driven publishers? How can your colleague Deborah Dwórk be "Rose Professor of Holocaust History at Clark University" if she is unaware of Aumeier's testimony or the Washington interrogation transcripts?
Now my next point: You have signally failed to address the question of the disposal of the masses of bodies. I calculate that about ten bodies go to a cubic meter; disposing of 355,000 -- one such gassing spree alleged to have taken three weeks (May 14, 1944 onward) -- therefore requires a pit of about 35,000 m3, which would surely have been visible on aerial photos. If they were cremated, it is an iron rule that each cadaver consumes 30-- 40 kilos of coke. So cremating 355,000 bodies would require some ten to fifteen thousand tons of coke. The fuel cellars in the crematoria would not hold more than about twenty tons. The real coke consumption is given from documents which show that from November 1942 to October 1943 -- when the crematoria were not exactly standing idle, according to you book and to your source, Danuta Czech -- a total of 760 tons of coke were delivered to the crematoria, enough to dispose of up to 25,000 cadavers, which is well within the figures assessed by revisionists.
OU ALSO adopt the story of "huge cremation pits" (page 338), and you refer on page 283 to "gravel-pits" in which the gassing victims were mass-cremated: yet on page 191 you quite rightly refer to the swampy nature of the entire region, with the water table only a few inches below the ground's surface. Look at your own illustration on page 323; the photograph shows that the ditch is filled with water only about six inches below the ground level! Any pit that was dug at Auschwitz filled up with water almost instantly. Thus we have to discount Filip Müller's colourful story of the channel designed to catch fat flowing out of the burning bodies -- why the fat did not catch fire is one question; why it would flow uphill out of the pits quite another.
You have failed to mention the death registers which were returned in 1989 from Moscow to the German authorities. These list 66,000 certified deaths. Some volumes are missing, but those which have been inspected reveal that -- contrary to the assertion that the old and unfit were given no numbers and put to death immediately without being registered -- the death certificates show a normal distribution of age groups from the very young to the very old.
You repeat on page 10 the familiar allegation that the retreating Nazis blew up the crematoria to destroy the incriminating evidence. I remember hearing Christopher Browning say on a BBC television programme that it was the Red Army who blew up the buildings; and the February 1945 Luftwaffe aerial photographs of the site also suggest that they had as of that month still not been blown up. Do you have any comment on this?
You dwell at some length on the two visits by Heinrich Himmler to this important Nazi site, on about March 1, 1941 and on July 17, 1942. Himmler's Persönlicher Referent, SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Brandt, kept a shorthand (and therefore secret) diary, which is now in the Bundesarchiv (file NS19/Zug.DC/13) and which I had transcribed in full nearly twenty years ago, in 1978, by shorthand experts. I am troubled that while referring to Auschwitz four times (Feb. 26, May 4, July 14, 16, 1942) this transcript does not even hint at anything ugly happening there. It seems remarkable that Himmler did not visit it more than twice (Vrba was lying about the "1943 visit"), given the keystone role which modern historians, if not History itself, have assigned to Auschwitz. Gauleiter Albert Hoffmann, Bracht's deputy from Feb. 10, 1941, who testified to British Army interrogators that he considered the Nazi Ausrottung of the Jews to be justified as they were "undesirables", stated that he visited Dachau before 1938 (conditions were excellent) and Auschwitz with Himmler and Bracht: "Here he states conditions were considerably worse. Maltreatment did occur and [Hoffmann] has actually seen the ovens where bodies were being burned. He totally disbelieves the accounts of atrocities as published in the press" (My source is the interrogation record in the Federal Records Center, RG.332, ETO, MIS-- Y Sect., box 50).
Your own book frequently raises more questions than it answers: the very first line quotes a Jewish girl of nineteen, housed in Auschwitz in 1945, as telling your co-author, "I was very ill with pleurisy and typhus." Then why did the Nazis not "gas" her as unfit for work? The same question goes for the "600 sick inmates," and for the "60,000 people" lower down the same page, and for Anne Frank, her sister Margot and her father Otto, and for all their friends and neighbours who also contracted typhus from the conditions at Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen: on page 335 you refer to the SS making provisions to treat 3,188 sick men and 3,188 sick women in two hospital camps at Auschwitz II (Birkenau). This is a question which cannot be ignored, for it goes to the root of the matter.
I am impressed by your honesty in reporting (page 222) that after the typhus epidemic broke out in the summer of 1942 the whole camp "had to be fumigated with tons of Zyklon B." This gives to the uninitiated like myself a picture of the scale on which this pesticide had to be used. You refer however to Zyklon-B as being a crystalline form of cyanide (it was not: it was packaged as pellets of wood pulp or diatomaceous earth, impregnated with hydrogen cyanide); you correctly state (page 219) that after rooms had been fumigated with it, they "could be entered safely only after having been aired for twenty hours." This conflicts powerfully with the "eye witnesses" favoured by Ms. Dwórk who describe the Sonderkommandos going into the "gas chambers", without gas masks (smoking cigarettes), only minutes after the screams died down.
Upon reflection I am not impressed by the significance of that replacement of an existing chute (Rutsche) with stairs into the mortuary, as cleverly detected by you, and by Gerald Fleming before you, on the Moscow blueprints: you comment portentously (page 324): "The victims would walk to their death." Does this also include the vast numbers of typhus-dead? They could not have walked down those stairs. On page 328 you describe the Sonderkommandos extracting gold teeth and cutting the women's hair: when was this done, and more importantly, where? In the downstairs mortuary /"gas-chamber", still reeking of cyanide? In the (tiny, two-man) elevator? In the ground-level furnace room of the crematoria? Let us be specific about these details, because the legends depend on them.
From your highly interesting investigation of Himmler's grandiose plans for the camp -- the outsized radio-communications room, the great hall of the Kommandantur, Himmler's imperial-sized study, etc -- it seems the site was intended to become a centre of SS government in the eastern regions of the Reich. Would he really have established these things in the heart of a killing centre? The equivalent of moving No. 10 Downing Street to a wing of Wandsworth prison, or the White House to Death Row at San Quentin?
In short, I feel that one of you has done magnificent research for this book, while the other -- who poked around in the history of Holocaust -- has let him (or her) down.