Institute for Historical Review

Institute for Historical Review

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The Myth of the Six Million

21. The Factual Appraisal of the Conditions in the German Wartime Concentration Camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross

A key role in relation to the Jewish question in Europe during World War H was played by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which consisted largely of relatively detached Swiss nationals, although, as might be expected, sentiment became more critical of Germany when the German military defeats continued to mount following Stalingrad. At the 17th International Red Cross Conference at Stockholm in 1947 final arrangements were made for a definitive report to appear the next year: Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on its Activities during the Second World War (3 vols., Geneva, 1948). This comprehensive survey both supplemented and incorporated the findings from two previous key works: Documents sur L'activité du CICR en faveur des civils detenus dans les camps de concentration en Allemagne, 1939-1945 (Geneva, 1946), and Inter Arma Caritas: the Work of the ICRC during the Second World War (Geneva, 1947). The team of authors, headed by Frédéric Siordet, explained in the opening pages of the first of the 1948 volumes that their motto had been strict political neutrality, and service to all. The ICRC was contrasted with the national societies of the Red Cross with their primary aims of aiding their own peoples. The neutrality of the ICRC was seen to he typified by its two principal wartime leaders, Max Huber and Carl J. Burckhardt. This neutral source has been selected here to conclude the testimony on the genocide question.

The ICRC considered that its greatest single wartime triumph consisted in the successful application of the 1929 Geneva military convention to obtain access to civilian internees in the various parts of Central and Western Europe. The ICRC, however, was unable to obtain any access to the Soviet Union, which had failed to ratify the 1929 convention. The millions of civilian and military internees in the USSR were cut off from any international contact or supervision whatever. This was especially deplorable, since enough was known to assert that by far the worst conditions for internees of both types existed in the USSR.

ICRC contacts with German internment camps in wartime began on September 23, 1939, with a visit to Germany's major PW camp for captured Polish soldiers. The ICRC, after March, 1942, and the first reports on German mass-internment policies directed toward the Jews, became concerned that previously satisfactory conditions in German civilian internment camps might be affected. The German Red Cross was requested to take action, but they candidly reported to the ICRC on April 29, 1942, that the German Government was not being sufficiently cooperative in providing necessary information. The German Government took the position that its internment policy "related to the security of the detaining state" (Report, vol. 1, p. 613). The ICRC did not accept this position as a basis for excluding supervisory authority, and finally, by the latter part of 1942, it was able to secure important concessions from Germany.

The German Government agreed to permit the ICRC to supervise the shipment of food parcels to the camps for all cases which did not involve German nationals. The ICRC soon established contact with the commandants and personnel of the camps and launched their food relief program, which functioned until the last chaotic days of the war in 1945. Letters of thanks for packages were soon pouring in from Jewish internees, and it was also possible to make unlimited anonymous food shipments to the camps.

As early as October 2, 1944, the ICRC warned the German Foreign Office of the impending collapse of the German transportation system due to the Allied bombing campaign. The ICRC considered that starvation conditions for people throughout Germany were becoming inevitable. At last, on February 1, 1945, the German Government agreed to permit Canadian PW's to drive white supply trucks to the various concentration camps. The ICRC set up one special distribution center at the Berlin Jewish Hospital and another at Basel. However, this improvised food system did not work well, and many of the white food trucks were destroyed by Allied aerial attacks. The ICRC role became so important in the last phase of the war that it was actually the ICRC representatives who hoisted the white flags of surrender at Dachau and Mauthausen during the final days of the war.

The ICRC had special praise for the liberal conditions which prevailed at Theresienstadt (Terezin) up to the time of their last visits there in April, 1945. This large Jewish community, which had been concentrated under German auspices, enjoyed complete autonomy in communal life under a Jewish administration. The Jewish Council of Elders repeatedly informed the ICRC representatives that they were enjoying surprisingly favorable conditions when one considered that Germany was going down to defeat during a war in which World Jewry had been the first to call for her destruction.

The ICRC also had special praise for the Vittel camp in German-occupied France. This camp contained thousands of Polish Jews whose only claim to special consideration was that they had received visas from American consular authorities. They were treated by the German authorities in every respect as full-fledged American citizens.

The ICRC had some guarded comments to make about the situation of Hungarian Jews, many of whom were deported. to Poland by the Germans in 1944 after the German occupation of Hungary. The ICRC believed, for instance, that the "ardent" demonstrations of Hungarian Jews against the German occupation were unwise.

The ICRC had special praise for the mild regime of Ion Antonescu of Rumania toward the Jews, and they were able to give special relief help to 183,000 Rumanian Jews until the moment of the Soviet occupation. This enabled the Rumanian Jews to enjoy far better conditions than average Rumanians during the late months of the war. This aid ceased with the Soviet occupation, and the ICRC complained bitterly that it never succeeded "in sending anything whatsoever to Russia" (Report, vol. 2, p. 62).

It should be noted that the ICRC received voluminous flow of mail from Auschwitz until the period of the Soviet occupation. By that time many of the internees had been evacuated westward by the Germans. The efforts of the ICRC to extend aid to the internees left at Auschwitz under the Soviet occupation were futile. It was possible, however, at least to a limited extent, for ICRC representatives to supervise the evacuation of Auschwitz by way of Moravia and Bohemia. It was also possible to continue sending food parcels for former Auschwitz inmates to such places as Buchenwald and Oranienburg.

The ICRC complained bitterly that their vast relief operations for civilian Jewish internees in camps were hampered by the tight Allied blockade of Fortress Europe. Most of their purchases of relief food were made in Rumania, Hungary, and Slovakia. It was also in the interest of the interned Jews that the ICRC on March 15, 1944, protested against "the barbarous aerial warfare of the Allies" (Inter Arma Caritas, p. 78). The period of the 1899 and 1907 Hague conventions could only be considered a golden age by comparison.

It is important to note in finishing with these detailed and comprehensive ICRC reports that none of the International Red Cross representatives at the camps or else where in Axis-occupied Europe found any evidence what ever that a deliberate policy of extermination was being conducted by Germany against the Jews. The ICRC did emphasize that there was general chaos in Germany during the final months of the war at a time when most of the Jewish doctors from the camps were being used to combat typhus on the eastern front. These doctors were far from the camp areas when the dreaded typhus epidemics of 1945 struck (Report, vol. 1, pp. 204ff.).

The ICRC worked in close cooperation throughout the war with Vatican representatives, and, like the Vatican, found itself unable, after the event, to engage in the irresponsible charges of genocide which had become the order of the day.

Nothing is more striking or important relative to the work of the International Red Cross in relation to the concentration camps than the statistics it presented on the loss of life in the civil population during the Second World War:

Loss of German civil population as a result of air raids and forced repatriation


Loss of German nationals of other countries during the time of their eviction


Loss of victims of persecution because of politics, race or religion who died in prisons and concentration camps between 1939 and 1945 (not incl. USSR)


Loss of civil population of the countries of Eastern Europe, without the Soviet Union


Loss of civil population of the Soviet Union


These figures present the appalling estimate of 17,850,000 who lost their lives for reasons other than persecution, while only 300,000 of all persecuted groups, many of whom were not Jews, died from all causes during the war. This figure of 300,000 stands out in marked contrast with the 5,012,000 Jews estimated by the Jewish joint Distribution Committee to have lost their lives during the war, mainly through extermination by National Socialists.

One of the most bewildered Germans after the war was Legation Counsellor Eberhard von Thadden, who had been delegated the double responsibility by the German Foreign Office of working on the Jewish question with the ICRC and with Adolf Eichmann. In April, 1943, he discussed with Eichmann the rumors circulating abroad that Jews were being wantonly exterminated by the German authorities. Eichmann insisted that the very idea of extermination was absurd. Germany needed all possible labor in a struggle for her very existence.

Thadden questioned the wisdom of the internment policy. Eichmann admitted that available transportation facilities were needed to furnish both the fronts and the homeland, but he argued that it had become necessary to concentrate Jew from the occupied territories in the East and in German camps to secure Jewish labor effectively and to avert unrest and subversion in the occupied countries. Any of the occupied countries might become a front-line area within a relatively short period of time.

Eichmann insisted that the family camps for the Jews in the East, along the lines of Theresienstadt, were far more acceptable to the Jews than the separations which the splitting up of families would entail. Eichmann admitted a case to Thaden in 1944 in which a Jew was killed in Slovakia while on transport from Hungary to Poland, but he insisted that such an event was extremely exceptional. He reminded Thadden again that the Jews were solely in camps so that their working power could be utilized and espionage could be prevented. He noted that Germany had not employed these extreme measures in the early years of the war, but only when it became evident that her very existence was at stake. Eichmann also reminded Thadden that foreign Jews who were being allowed to leave Europe directly from the camps were not charging Germany with the atrocities which were irresponsibly rumored from abroad. In short, Thadden, who had personally made numerous visits to the various concentration camps, was thoroughly convinced that Eichmann was right and that the foreign rumors of genocide in circulation were incorrect.

Eberhard von Thadden's only comment from his prison cell on June 11, 1946, after having heard the full scope of the Nuremberg Trial propaganda, was that, if Eichmann had lied, he would have to have been a "very skillful" liar indeed. The world has not yet sufficiently pondered the question about who has lied and why. Yet it is a statistical fact that, for every fraudulent affidavit or statement claiming a death camp or a gas chamber, there are at least twenty which deny the very existence of such camps and gas chambers. It is only the published evidence which has presented a lop-sided picture in support of the genocide myth.

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