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 The Times

Cyanide was 'used to kill lice' claims Irving


TRACES of cyanide in human hair recovered from Auschwitz and on metal ventilation grilles over the concentration camp's gas chambers were evidence of a delousing programme by the Nazis and not of mass extermination, David Irving, the Hitler historian, said yesterday.

Mr Irving told a High Court judge that the SS used the gas chambers simply to fumigate bodies and clothing and hair shorn after death from inmates of the Polish concentration camp in the face of a plague of lice.

He accepted that, according to a report by a forensic laboratory in Krakow in December 1945, residual traces of hydrogen cyanide were found by scientists. Subjects for analysis included a 55lb bag of hair thought to have been taken from about 500 young Jewish women. Mr Irving said: "Corpses arrived in a fully clothed state. As a corpse cooled, the lice crawled off the body, so you had an infestation problem. These were not homicidal gas chambers. They were used to delouse clothing and cadavers. The Germans processed human hair as part of hygiene methods." Told that experts on Auschwitz would give evidence that what was happening there was mass gas extermination, Mr Irving, 62, said: "That is the conclusion of a closed mind."

The historian was beginning his third week under cross-examination by Richard Rampton, QC, during his libel action against Deborah Lipstadt, the American academic, and Penguin Books, which published her work Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. He is suing both for damages over the claim that he is a Holocaust-denier who has twisted history.

Mr Irving, who is accused of trying to exonerate Hitler for what happened to the Jews, claims that he is the victim of an international conspiracy to ruin his reputation as an historian. Yesterday, he went on to claim that the chambers, which were fitted with a door consisting of a peephole and thickened glass, were used as bomb shelters by the SS.

Mr Rampton, counsel for the defendants, has told the court that between the first edition of his book, Hitler's War, in 1977 and its second in 1991, Mr Irving's views had undergone a big change. In the later edition, all traces of the Holocaust as an historical truth had disappeared and Auschwitz had been "transformed from a monstrous killing machine into a mere slave-labour camp".

Yesterday Mr Irving said that he stood by the man whose work had persuaded him that mass extermination never took place at Auschwitz. Fred Leuchter, a consultant in the design of execution facilities in America, had visited the camp in 1988 on behalf of a German, Ernst Zundel, who was on trial in Canada for publishing material that denied the existence of homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz.

In a report, Mr Leuchter recorded only very small traces of cyanide in the gas chamber remains and relatively large traces in the delousing remains - concluding that the camp had not been used for extermination.

The report was condemned as "flawed rubbish" by Mr Rampton, but Mr Irving responded: "It was pioneering work, even though it has been superseded. Leuchter was barking up the right tree."

The hearing continues.

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January 24, 2000
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