Jean-Claude Pressac and the War Refugee Board Report
In his monumental study Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, Jean-Claude Pressac proposes a "critical study of the War Refugee Board' report of November 1944 on KL Auschwitz-Birkenau" (pp. 459-468), purporting to "demonstrate the authenticity of the Rosenberg/Wetzler testimonies regarding Krematorien of type II/III" (p. 459), the accuracy of which, he concedes, is not great in the light of current knowledge.
Walter Rosenberg, who subsequently assumed the name of Rudolf Vrba, and Alfred Wetzler escaped from the camp of Birkenau on April 7, 1944 and later compiled a report about their experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was published, together with the joint report of Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, escapees from Birkenau on May 27, 1944, and that of Jerzy Wesolowski, who escaped from Birkenau on November 19, 1943 (he later changed his name to Tabeau), by the U.S. government's War Refugee Board in November 1944.
This is the version of the report which Pressac prefers, and upon which he bases his critical study.
Pressac declares, in the first place, that excerpts of the War Refugee Board report:
... were published in the New York Times on 26th November 1944, the day when Himmler, it is thought, ordered the dismantling of the three remaining Birkenau Krematorien. The concordance of dates, though perhaps due to chance, amply justifies the action of these five witnesses whose accounts formed the basis for the report (p. 459).
In reality no "concordance of dates" exists here. To begin with, the first excerpts of the testimonies of Vrba and Wetzler were published by the New York Times more than four months before, to be exact on the 3rd and the 6th of July, 1944.
As for the Himmler order, Pressac derives the date of November 26, 1944 from the Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau, by Danuta Czech, in which, under that date, one reads:
"The RF-SS Himmler ordered the destruction of the crematoria in the Auschwitz concentration camp."
As her source, Danuta Czech cites the testimony of the former SS Standartenführer Kurt Becher, to be exact, document PS-3762. In this document, however, Becher makes no mention of the date in question, stating merely that Himmler issued the order "between the middle of September and the middle of October 1944." According to Becher, there were two originals and one copy of Himmler's order, but not a trace of these documents has been found.
Before examining Pressac's arguments in detail, it is necessary to clarify their methodological premises. Pressac certainly deserves praise for recognizing that in the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau nothing was static: the plans and the buildings to which they pertained were constantly evolving. An architectural designation correct for 1944 might be false for 1942. Therefore, a testimony must be analyzed on the basis of the architectural structure of the camp as it existed in the period to which that testimony refers.
Pressac is also to be commended for subjecting testimonies which had always been accepted, a priori and dogmatically, as truthful by the Exterminationist historiography, to critical analysis. Although Pressac sought to bring the same critical rigor, which we accept without reservation, to the analysis of Vrba and Wetzler's testimony, here he failed, for he arbitrarily limited his analysis to that portion of their testimony covering the period between the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943.
Pressac's arguments for the authenticity of Vrba and Wetzler's testimony are based on the following two assumptions (it being universally conceded that the two witnesses never saw the interiors of the crematoria at Birkenau):
- that their direct observations of the exterior of the crematoria do not go beyond March 1943;
- that the indirect information presented in their report is provided principally, if not exclusively, by inmates of the "Sonderkommando" assigned to the "Bunkers" 1 and 2. This information can not be dated later than the end of 1942 because these inmates were "liquidated" on December 17 of that year.
Both these assumptions are completely groundless.
Pressac has committed another methodological error: by restricting his study to the Vrba-Wetzler report of 1944, he has neglected its authors' subsequent testimony, which contradicts the French writer's two assumptions categorically.
Rudolf Vrba appeared as a prosecution witness against the accused in the 1985 trial of Ernst Zündel. There he testified to having drawn the plan of crematoria I and II (= II and III according to the usual numeration) which appears on page 16 of the first part of the War Refugee Board report, and to having observed crematorium II from the window of the mortuary connected to Block 27 of camp BIb, at that time still a men's camp, from a distance of about 5040 yards.
Vrba went to the mortuary barracks "frequently," he told the court. Since Alfred Wetzler was registrar there, at a position he held to June 8, 1943, Wetzler and his friend Vrba could have observed crematorium II from a very close distance until that date. Vrba also testified that he had seen the crematoria and the surrounding area over a period "from January 1943 until April 7, l944."
Vrba's sworn testimony, therefore, categorically contradicts Pressac's assumption that the two witnesses did not see crematoria II and III after March 1943.
Pressac's premise is all the more unjustifiable in view of the clear statement in the text of the Vrba-Wetzler report that the description of the crematoria refers to 1944:
At present there are four crematoria in operation at Birkenau, two larger ones, I and II, and two smaller ones, III and IV.
Because Vrba and Wetzler escaped from Birkenau on April 7, 1944 and composed their report a couple of weeks later, it is clear that the expression "at present" cannot refer to March 1943, when, moreover, only two of the four crematoria were functioning.
Vrba has categorically refuted Pressac's second assumption, according to which the two witnesses received information concerning crematoria II and III principally, if not exclusively, from detainees of the "Sonderkommando" of the Bunkers 1 and 2, and then only until December 1942. In the book I Cannot Forgive, Vrba wrote:
I met other Registrars as well, and renewed contract with Philip Müller, who became one of my most valuable sources of information. Philip stoked the furnaces in the crematoriums.
Vrba received "further information" from Philip (Filip) Müller when, at the beginning of 1944, he discussed with him the new situation in the camp.
At the Zündel trial, Vrba confirmed having frequent contacts with members of the "Sonderkommando" who were working in the crematoria, stating that he drew the plan of crematoria II and III in exact accordance with their information. To attorney Christie's question as to whether the plan was accurate, Vrba answered:
This I cannot say. It was said that as we were not in the large crematoria, we reconstructed it from messages which we got from members of the Sonderkommando working in that crematorium, and therefore, that[was] approximately how it transpired in our mind, and in our ability to depict what we have heard.
After denying that either he or Wetzler had ever entered any of the crematoria of Birkenau, Vrba confirmed that:
Consequently, we had to rely on rough information which we got from the Sonderkommando who worked inside; and to reproduce a map without being trained in architecture, from hearsay descriptions of the other eye witnesses, of course, is not such a simple thing.
Nevertheless, Filip Müller, whom Vrba cited in his testimony as one of his most valuable sources of information, expressly stated that in 1944 he handed Alfred Wetzler, among other documents, "a plan of the crematoria with the gas chambers."
The above amply demonstrates that Pressac's two working assumptions are unfounded and can only lead to erroneous conclusions. It follows that his entire case, which is derived from these assumptions, is devoid of probative value.
This by itself would be sufficient to invalidate completely Pressac's attempt to demonstrate the veracity of the material at the core of the Vrba-Wetzler report. In the interests of methodological thoroughness and precision, however, we shall present a detailed refutation of Pressac's individual arguments.
To begin, however, another premise is necessary. The Vrba-Wetzler report evinces numerous and important discrepancies regarding the architectural structure of the crematoria in the period to which it refers, April 1944, the very reason that Pressac surmises that their information refers to the state of the crematoria in March 1943.
Below, we summarize the chief discrepancies between the crematoria as reported by Vrba and Wetzler and as they actually were in April 1944, for the reader's convenience in following Pressac's attempts to reconcile the contradictions, and our refutations of his efforts. To make things clearer, we publish Vrba's sketch of the plan of crematoria II/III from the War Refugee Board report, the actual blueprint of the same, and Pressac's artistic attempts to reconcile them (Figs. 1-3).
- Number of furnaces: 9 (Vrba-Wetzler) instead of 5 (Pressac).
- Number of muffles for each furnace: 4 (V-W) instead of 3 (P). (Vrba and Wetzler's figures for furnaces and muffles result in a total of muffles, 36, which is more than twice the documented figure.)
- Architectural disposition of the furnaces: in a semicircle around the chimney (V-W) rather than in a straight line along the longitudinal axis of the furnace room (P).
- Cremation capability: 2,000 corpses per day for each of the crematoria of type II and III (V-W), instead of 1,000-1,100.
- On the ground-floor of the crematorium (V-W) rather than in the basement (P).
- On the ground-floor, although a little lower than the two previous rooms (V-W), rather than in the basement (P).
- Number of the "roof traps" for inserting the Zyklon B: 3 (V-W) instead of 4 (P).
- Rails that connect it to the furnace room passing through the undressing room (V-W): non-existent.
- 8,000 Jews from Cracow (V-W) instead of 1,492 (according to the "Kalendarium" of Auschwitz).
I. Furnace room
II. Undressing room
III. "Gas chamber"
IV. First "gassing"
For greater clarity, we will present the arguments of Pressac according to the above order.
I. Furnace room
Contradictions 1, 2, and 3: number of furnaces, number of muffles, architectural arrangement of the furnaces (see Fig. 1-3).
The number of furnaces cited per Krematorium is wrong. Those of type II/III had only 15 cremation muffles, not the 36 announced. This error is understandable if we assume that the witnesses themselves had never entered a Krematorium and all of their observations were from the exterior or based on the accounts of other prisoners, in particular, though we cannot prove it, Sonderkommando members working in December 1942 at Bunkers 1 and 2 who would have been able to watch the building of what they believed would be their future place of work. Document 9 enables us to understand the assumed disposition of the furnaces around the chimney, and with this arrangement the number of furnaces would be a multiple of three. (p. 459)
In other words, detainees attached to the "Sonderkommando" assigned to Bunkers 1 and 2, seeing the chimney rising from a broad quadrangular wing of crematorium II, which measured 10x12 meters (Pressac's "document 9" is a photograph of crematorium II with this wing in evidence), supposed that the furnaces were arranged around the chimney and communicated this hypothesis to Vrba and Wetzler.
So far as we can see, this explanation explains nothing. It does not explain on what basis the detainees of "Sonderkommando" deduced the number of furnaces and of muffles and their architectural disposition. Indeed, as is plain from the photograph of crematorium II published by Pressac, from looking only at the exterior nothing of the sort could be deduced: one could only "imagine," which is very different.
Pressac makes no attempt to explain why the detainees of the "Sonderkommando" should have "imagined exactly nine furnaces with four muffles, arranged around the chimney. His contention that, had the furnaces been arranged around the chimney in a semicircle, their number would be a multiple of 3, we must confess, is to us incomprehensible. We can't see why the number of furnaces could not be, for example, 5, or 7, in such an arrangement.
As we have shown above, Pressac's attempt to explain this anomaly is totally unfounded: Vrba declared under oath that he received the information regarding the inside structure of the crematoria, not from the detainees of the "Sonderkommando" working in the Bunkers in 1942, but from those working in the crematoria of Birkenau in 1943 and 1944, in particular from Filip Müller.
It seems quite absurd to us that detainees assigned to service the furnaces would not have known the number and arrangement of the furnaces and muffles. The conclusion is obvious. If one allows Rudolf Vrba's bona fides, one is thereby obliged to deny that of the "Sonderkommando" members who provided him his information: one has to assume that they deliberately lied to him. But this hypothesis is obviously insupportable.
The importance of the discrepancies between the Vrba-Wetzler report and Pressac's documents as to the number of furnaces, the number of muffles, and the architectural arrangement of the furnaces is thus fully established.
Contradiction 4: cremation capability.
The cremation capability of each of crematoria II and III as stated by the Vrba-Wetzler report -- 2,000 corpses in 24 hours - is about twice the figure settled on (without any objective foundation, however) by Pressac: 1,000-1,100 corpses in 24 hours (p. 244). Pressac attempts to explain this discrepancy as follows:
In the [Vrba-Wetzler] report the throughput of the four Krematorien per 24 hours is fairly reasonably estimated at 6,000, though this is one third higher than the 4,416 units a day reported in a letter of 28th June 1943 from the Bauleitung to the SS Economic and Administrative Head Office in Berlin. Even this I consider to be a purely administrative document, calculated on the basis of the original estimated throughput of the furnaces, the true daily rate for the four cremation installations being no more than 3,000. If we take the rate of incineration given by the witnesses -- three corpses per muffle in one and a half hours -- and apply this to the true number of furnaces, the daily figure for the four Krematorien is about 2,200 (p.459).
We state at the outset that the cremation of 3 normal corpses in go minutes in the furnaces of crematoria II and III of Birkenau - as well as the cremation capability adduced by Pressac -- was technically impossible, as we shall show in a study of this question to be published shortly.
Pressac's argument is, in any case, methodologically incorrect, because it arbitrarily eliminates, instead of explaining, a contradiction in the text of the report one related to the number of muffles. According to Pressac's logic, it could be demonstrated, that, for example, Dov Paisikovic, allegedly a member of the Sonderkommando, told the absolute truth when he stated that "it took about four minutes for the corpses to be consumed" (les cadavres mettaient environ quatre minutes à se consumer). Yes, if we take the number of muffles given by this witness and apply it to the correct time needed for cremation, we obtain a crematorium's true cremation capacity!
We add that the data in the Vrba-Wetzler report for a crematorium of type II/III furnish a daily cremation capacity of 1,728 corpses, not 2,000. Furthermore, the result obtained by using Pressac's figures (3 cadavers x 15 muffles x 90 minutes) -- 720 corpses in 24 hours -- is lower by about one third than the average figure admitted by Pressac himself; 1,050 corpses in 24 hours. If Pressac accepts the Vrba-Wetzler figure for the time needed to cremate 3 corpses in one muffle (90 minutes), one is at a loss to understand how he could simultaneously maintain that a crematorium of type II/III could cremate 1,000-1,100 corpses in 24 hours.
The conclusion follows that the members of the "Sonderkommando" working in the crematoria told Vrba the truth about the time needed for cremation and about the loading capacity of the furnaces, but lied to him about the number of furnaces and of muffles!
Nor is that all. In his book Cannot Forgive, published in 1964, Rudolf Vrba changed his version completely. He stated that crematoria II and III each had 5 furnaces, with 3 muffles for each furnace, and that in each muffle 3 corpses could be cremated in 20 minutes. The incineration capacity of each crematorium thus jumps to 3,240 corpses in 24 hours. Filip Müller, Vrba's valuable source of information, confirmed these technically impossible data exactly -- 3 corpses per muffle in twentv minutes time 15 muffles. It follows that the information passed to Vrba must not have agreed with the "90 minutes" claimed in the Vrba-Wetzler report, nor with the "36 muffles."
The importance of the discrepancies between the data given by the Vrba-Wetzler report and those of Pressac on the cremation capacity of crematoria II and III is thus not only confirmed, but enhanced.
II. Undressing room
Contradiction 5: location of the room (see Fig. 4)
On this Pressac writes:
In light of the drawings of type II/III Krematorien now known, it might be thought that there was no undressing room at ground level, but drawing 2216 of 20/3/43 (Documents 5 and 6), a plan of the entire POW camp, confirms the reality. As to this date, only Krematorium II AND [sic] its gas chamber were completed. Its future underground undressing room is shown only as "planned." It had in fact already been built, but was not yet operational. Krematorium III was under construction. Its undressing room and gas chamber were also shown as "planned," which is not quite true -- they were almost complete, but not yet usable. A "Pferdestallbaracke OKH Type 260/9," a "stable-type" hut, was erected as a provisional undressing room in the north yard of Krematorium II. Two reasons may be advanced for this. First, the SS intended to use both Leichenkeller (basement morgues) of Krematorium II as gas chambers, operating them alternately, which would have been possible after making only minor modifications to Leichenkeller 2 (the undressing room) as it was already ventilated. Second -- and this is more likely -- a temporary undressing room was required because the access stairway to the basement undressing room was not yet built and work was still going on in this room, making it unavailable for "special treatment" operations (p.459).
Pressac furnishes further details:
We know little about this hut, except that after serving as an undressing room for the first batch of Jews to be gassed in this Krematorium, it was quickly dismantled - only a week later according to the Sonderkommando witness Henryk Tauber. The first mention of an access stairway through Leichenkeller 2 found in the PMO archives, BW 30/40, page 68e, is dated 26/2/43 (Document 7a). As soon as this entrance was operational, the undressing hut was no longer required (p. 462).
To summarize, Pressac deems Vrba and Wetzler's claim that the undressing room of crematorium II/III was on the ground floor to be accurate because, for about a week in March 1943, there was a hut in the north yard of crematorium II which was employed as an undressing room for the "victims of the gas chamber" (Pressac claims the hut was torn down after a week) Since this hut was clearly above ground, Vrba and Wetzler were in good faith in claiming that the undressing room was on the ground floor.
This position cannot be sustained. As we have already demonstrated, the description in the Vrba-Wetzler report refers to the state of the crematoria in April 1944, not that of March 1943. In addition, the Vrba-Wetzler report makes no mention whatsoever a dressing-room "hut." No such hut appears either in the sketch of type II/III crematoria or in the plan of Birkenau which were drawn by Vrba. This indicates that the two witnesses never saw or heard of the hut in question. According to Vrba and Wetzler's account, the undressing room was actually located inside the crematorium, of which it is an integral part.
But let us suppose that the two witnesses or their sources had actually seen the hut in question: how does one explain the transformation, in their report, of this external hut into an internal room? Once again, Pressac's explanation explains nothing.
The importance of the discrepancy as to the location of the undressing room, therefore, is fully confirmed.
III. 'Gas chamber'
Contradiction 6: "gas chamber" on the ground floor (see Fig. 4-5.)
Pressac doesn't take note of this discrepancy, due to his mistaken reading of the text of the Vrba-Wetzler report and, more importantly, to his neglect of the additional sources (Vrba's subsequent writings and testimony). Pressac, who identifies the subterranean Leichenkeller (basement mortuary) No. 1 as the "gas chamber," credits the report with accuracy on this point, since by his interpretation it locates room C, the alleged gas chamber, "at basement level." (p. 459)
This interpretation is incorrect. The Vrba-Wetzler report states:
"From there a door and a few steps[emphasis added] lead down into the very long and narrow gas chamber."
Thus this room was undoubtedly lower than the furnace room and the undressing room, but one cannot, on the basis of the report, equate it with Leichenkeller 2, because, further on, the report states that, in order to carry out the "gassing," "SS men with gas masks climb on the roof[emphasis added] of the "gas chamber," which locates the roof well above ground level.
This interpretation is expressly confirmed by Rudolf Vrba's testimony at the Zündel trial. As we noted above, Vrba claimed to have observed crematorium II, looking out the window of the morgue attached to Block 27 of camp BIb, from a distance of 50-60 yards, specifying that:
This Krematorium no. II had, apart from buildings, long bunkers which were approximately the height of two such tables. Say the bunker was about this height, above the head of a human being.
Attorney Christie: All right. You are indicating about six and a half, seven feet?
Rudolf Vrba: I would think so. In other words, a man who would climb on it would have to lift his hands and sort of make an exercise in order to swing himself on top of the bunker.
Rudolf Vrba further stated that he himself saw, from the window of the morgue, a corporal of the SS Health Service climbing in the manner described on to the roof of the "bunker" in order to carry out the "gassing":
And then he climbed on the bunker by holding on his hands and in a sporty way swinging himself over, which attracted my attention because it was not usually the demeanor of S.S. men to make sport.
In the course of Christie's cross-examination, Vrba confirmed previous testimony to the effect that while he certainly hadn't measured the height of the "bunker" with a ruler, he was nevertheless sure that it was about as tall as an adult, possibly taller, and that, in order to get on to the roof, one had to climb up in the way he had described.
Now, as Christie pointed out in his cross-examination, the original plans of the "bunkers," that is of Leichenkeller 1 and 2 (HUTA drawing 109/13A and 109/14A of 21/9/1943, published by Pressac on page 322 and 324 of his work), show two basement rooms, the roofs of which protrude 54 centimeters[21.2 inches] above ground level. An earthen embankment, sloping up from the ground, enabled one to climb to the roof of the alleged gas chamber by taking merely two steps. Since Rudolf Vrba claims that this room rose about two meters[6.56 feet] above ground, it is clear that he wasn't telling the truth.
The importance of the discrepancy as to the location of the "gas chamber" is thus fully confirmed.
Contradiction 7: number of roof openings for insertion of Zyklon B.
Pressac's explanation for this discrepancy is as follows:
It is difficult to accept at face value the descriptions of the interiors of the undressing rooms and gas chambers, for the installations varied over time. Those of summer 1944 are well known, for they have been described or sketched many times by former members of the Sonderkommando. On the other hand, those of the early days have virtually not been described at all. The witnesses may have described the strict truth -- which already fluctuated according to the version -- but I doubt this, since they never entered Krematorium II themselves, or they lied, which is also most unlikely in view of the exact details given elsewhere, or -- and this is far more probable -- they invented a little to fill in the gaps in a story whose endings they knew only too well.
The gas chamber of Krematorium II was fitted with four openings for pouring Zyclon-B[sic]. The witnesses state that there were only three, and a photograph of January 1943 does indeed show this gas chamber as having only three devices for introducing the toxic product at that time. (pp. 459 and 464)
According to Pressac, when on 31 March 1943 crematorium II was officially turned over to the camp command by the "Zentralbauleitung der Waffen SS und Polizei" of Auschwitz, the alleged "gas chamber" was outfitted with four openings for the introduction of the Zyklon B. (p. 430)
It follows that Vrba and Wetzler, or their informants, cannot have made their observations after this date. As we have shown above, however, this is contradicted by Vrba's later sworn statements. Let us merely add that another photograph of crematorium II, which Pressac ascribes to the period "between 20th and 22nd January 1943" (p. 335), in which Leichenkeller I is distinctly visible, does not show the least trace of "openings for pouring Zyklon-B." The photograph to which Pressac refers above (which he publishes on p. 340), on the other hand, offers a distant and indistinct view of Leichenkeller I; on its roof are discernible three vertical shapes. Evident only by their shadowy contrast against the bright facade of crematorium I, the shapes are so indistinct that it is, to say the least, rash to affirm confidently they were devices for introducing Zyklon B.
But what was actually on the roof of Leichenkeller I in January or February 1943 is, in the last analysis, not very important here. What is important is that Rudolf Vrba testified in the Zündel trial that he repeatedly observed crematorium II at later dates, during the time it is supposed to have served as an instrument of extermination. Vrba even described a "gassing," allegedly carried out by the corporal of the SS Health Service who had climbed on the roof of Leichenkeller I, which he claimed to have watched from about 50-60 yards away. This alleged event occurred at a time when Leichenkeller I, according to Pressac, had four of these devices for pouring in the Zyklon B. Finally, as noted above, Vrba testified in Toronto that he and Wetzler could calmly observe, from about 50-60 yards, Leichenkeller I until the beginning of June 1943.
The two witnesses, therefore, should have seen four devices, not three. Aware of this discrepancy at the Zündel trial, Vrba elegantly liquidated it by stating that he had seen "three or four" openings on the roof of Leichenkeller 1.
Only three such openings, however, are mentioned in the 1944 report. Neither insufficient observation -- it was carefully carried out from about 50-60 yards away for almost five months -- nor faulty memory -- that of Vrba at that time being (according to him) absolutely exceptional-can account for the disparity: here again, Pressac's attempt at explanation explains nothing, and the discrepancies importance is clear.
Contradiction 8: rails connecting the "gas chamber" and the furnace room, by passing through the undressing room.
Pressac writes in this regard:
There remains the problem of the rails. According to the witnesses, they ran from C (the gas chamber) to A (the furnace room), connecting two different levels, the basement and the ground floor. This can be done only if there is a shallow slope between the two levels. This is the most dubious part of the testimony, for the corpses in Krematorium II/III were in fact brought up from the underground gas chamber to the ground floor furnace room by means of a goods lift[freight elevator]. There were no rails or wagons involved in this process. Three Bauleitung photographs (Documents 11, 12 and 13) confirm that in late 1942 and early 1943 there were narrow-gauge rails running between the furnace room and the future undressing room, Leichenkeller 2, apparently to facilitate the transport of building materials between these two places (Document 10["Schéma 3"]). This railway was visible from outside the two Krematorien -- However, it did not run between the gas chamber and the furnace room. The witnesses' confusion between C and B is all the more understandable in that they could see only the outside of Krematorien II and III. To show just how easy is to be mistaken, I would simply refer to the book KL Auschwitz: Documents photographiques, published by the Warsaw national publishing agency in 1980, where, 35 years after the event, Photo 61, identical to PMO neg. no.286, is captioned "construction of the gas chamber: of Krematorium IV or V," and Photo 62, showing concrete being poured from the roof of the undressing room of Krematorium II, is captioned "Prisoners concreting the ceiling above the gas chamber of Krematorium II or III."
The presence of rails during the construction of Krematorien II and III, easily visible to witnesses outside, first led the witnesses into error because they thought they were a permanent feature and found them difficult to explain, then subsequently confused the translators, who had just as much trouble in inserting them logically in the text. Some -- the version in G. Wellers's book -- got round the problem by talking of "path" and "lorries" for track and trucks, without bearing in mind that they were describing a building, the Krematorium, that they had never seen and whose overall dimensions did not exceed 50 x 100 meters. The same type of "vagueness" can be seen in all versions on the subject of the interior of the gas chamber -- an indirect proof that the witnesses had never seen it. Version 1 describes it as "masked by hangings," Version 2 has "shower installations ... painted on the wall," and version 3 "the walls ... are also camouflaged with simulated entrances to shower rooms." The details that were clear and well established in the report were well understood and rendered by the translator. Those that were less clear gave rise to different interpretations and hence to the different "versions." (p.464)
To recapitulate, Vrba and Wetzler, or their sources, during late 1942 and early 1943, saw rails connecting Leichenkeller 2 to the furnace room and "imagined" that they were a permanent installation. Hecause at that time it was not know what the function of the two Leichenkeller would be, they imagined moreover that Leichenkeller 2 was the "gas chamber," and that this premise was still connected to the furnace room by means of the rails.
Pressac's arguments have no basis. First of all, his interpretation of the Bauleitung photographs is open to
question. None shows rails connecting Leichenkeller 2 to the furnace room. Pressac has published a photograph of Leichenkeller 2 during it's construction, showing double rails, and a photograph of the furnace room showing double rails, but no proof exists that these rails were connected (documents 11 and 12 on page 466).
In the latter photograph, the two rails on the right, according to Pressac, descend "on a shallow slope toward Leichenkeller 2" (p.466). This interpretation seems to us rather daring. In reality the rails cross the furnace room obliquely which can lead to an optical illusion, that they descended in a gentle slope. If in fact the rails had sloped, the floor of the furnace room would have likewise sloped down toward Leichenkeller 2, for the track is clearly at floor level. In this case, since the distance from the entrance to Leichenkeller 2 to the entrance to the furnace room was about 43 meters (as is shown by BauIeitung drawing 933, published by Pressac on p. 276), and because the floor of Leichenkeller 2 was 2.60 meters (c. 8.5 feet) lower than that of the furnace room (drawings 1173-1174[r], p.274), even if one allows that the sloping tracks from the furnace room reached floor Ievel about 9 meters into Leichenkeller 2 (according to Pressac's attempt to reconstruct the path of the rails in crematorium II; "Schéma 3" on p.465), the slope of the resulting inclined plane would be 5 per cent.
Such a slope would mean that the floor level at the far end of the furnace room was 1.5 meters (almost 5 feet) higher than floor level adjoining (or entering) Leichenkeller II! It seems to us scarcely believable that architects would have floored a room of about 360 square meters at a 5% inclination -- which would require about 270 cubic meters of material to restore the floor to a horizontal plane -- and installed five three-muffle furnaces on this inclined plane. The hypothesis of a sloping floor in the furnace room -- in our opinion clearly disproved by
Pressac's document 12 -- evidently does not seem very credible even to Pressac, who, in the aforementioned "schéma", depicts the floor of the furnace room as horizontal and decreases the length of his inclined plane to about 15 meters, running from the near end of the crematorium floor to the adjacent Leichenkeller 2.
These computations are, once again, not so important, for Pressac's explication is directly contradicted in two different ways: the first is Vrba's sworn statement that he witnessed a "gassing" in Leichenkeller 1 of crematorium II, from which would follow that he knew perfectly well which of the two Leichenkeller was the "gas chamber." Vrba's supposed confusion, according to Pressac, between Leichenkeller 2 and Leichenkeller 1, was therefore impossible. The second is the Vrba's sworn testimony that he drew the sketch of type II/III crematorium which appears in his and Wetzler's report based on information from members of the Sonderkommando working there. That these inmates, who worked daily in the "undressing room," in the "gas chambers" and in the furnace rooms, were unaware of the layout and the contents of these rooms, is equally impossible.
Pressac's attempts to explain the presence of a railway track in the crematorium explains nothing, and the importance of this discrepancy is once again fully confirmed.
IV. First 'Gassing'
Contradiction 9: the number of "victims" of the first "gassing" in crematorium II.
The gassing of the 8,000 Cracow Jews described by the witnesses corresponds fairly closely in date with the known history of the month of March 1943. The first tests of the Krematorium II furnaces took place on 4th March according to the deposition of former Sonderkommando member Henryk Tauber, a day on which 45 "well-fleshed" bodies, especially selected from a batch gassed at Bunker 2, were cremated. The furnaces were subsequently kept going for another ten days without any further cremations. On 13th March, Messing, the Topf fitter who installed the ventilation systems, announced that he had furnished that of Leichenkeller 1, which meant that the gas chamber was now operational. And on the 14th, apparently in the evening, about 1,500 Jews from the Cracow ghetto -- rather than the 8,000 of the report -- were led to the undressing hut erected perpendicular to Krematorium II in its north yard. Preparation and gassing lasted two hours.
Cremation proceeded at full pace for 48 hours. On 20th March, side days later, 2,200 more victims, His time from Salonika, arrived to join the remains of the first 1,500 victims of Krematorium II (Documents 14 and 15) (p.464).
The page of the "Kalendarium" of Auschwitz relative to 14 March 1943, which Pressac reproduces from the Polish edition as his document 14 (p.467), reports that on that date a transport of about 2,000 Jews reached Auschwitz from ghetto B of Cracow. Of these, 484 men (numbers 107990-108409 and 108467-108530) and 24 women (38307-38330) were registered. Although this secondary source claims (without foundation) that approximately 1,500 of the Jews not registered for admission to the camp were gassed, it makes no mention of a first "gassing" in the new crematorium.
Indeed, it is simply Pressac's conjecture that 14 March 1943 was the date of the first "gassing" in Crematorium II. This supposition is definitely disproved by the testimony of both Vrba and Tauber, whom Pressac advances as an eyewitness to the first "gassing" and whose 1945 deposition to the Polish war crimes commission he publishes in translation (pp. 482-502).
We state at the beginning that Tauber says neither that the number of victims was 8,000, nor that they came from Cracow (p. 489). This information is derived from the Vrba-Wetzler report. Vrba, however, in his I Cannot Forgive, states that the first "gassing" in crematorium II took place one morning in "January" 1943: "by eight forty-five" the "gas chamber" had been filled with "3,000 Polish Jews" and "by eleven o'clock" the "gassing" began. We pass over the other contradictions to focus on the time of the "gassing": eleven o'clock in the morning.
Tauber, in contrast, declared that the trucks loaded with victims arrived in the crematorium "at nightfall" (p.489). It follows that the morning "gassing" reported by Vrba and Wetzler is not the same as the one reported by H.Tauber. Since, according to Pressac, Tauber's account takes precedence, the first "gassing" in crematorium II cannot have been of approximately 1,500 Jews from ghetto B in Cracow; therefore, the statement in the Vrba-Wetzler report that Jews from Cracow were killed during the first "gassing" must be false.
As far as the number of "gassed" is concerned, at the Zündel trial Vrba stated:
What I could see was the following, that a transport of eight thousand Jews from Cracow on that occasion . .
Attorney Christie: Eight thousand, eh? You counted them?
Vrba: By knowledge of the trucks, as I explained to you yesterday, and by knowledge of the number of[railroad] wagons which arrived to Auschwitz, we knew reasonably well how many of the victims arrived on which day.
Vrba claimed to have established the number of the alleged victims of gassing at Auschwitz during his stay at the camp by counting the trains and the trucks by which -- before the construction of the "ramp" at Birkenau -- the selectees were sent to the "gas chambers." In particular, since he knew that 100 people were loaded in each of these trucks, Vrba supposedly ascertained -- having counted 3,000 trucks -- that 300,000 Jews from the Polish ghettos near Auschwitz had been gassed.
It follows that on the day of the first gassing, Vrba must have counted 80 trucks filled with Jews from the Cracow ghetto. This confirms and reinforces the importance of the disparity as to the facts of the first "gassing" in crematorium II, which cannot have been the one described by in the Vrba-Wetzler report, cannot have been of approximately 1,500 Jews from Cracow and cannot have happened on March 14.
Jean-Claude Pressac's attempt to demonstrate the veracity of the Vrba-Wetzler report regarding crematoria II/III fails from the start, thanks to Vrba himself, in testimony subsequent to the report thus, in terms of the Vrba-Wetzler report, authenticity and veracity are mutually exclusive. Therefore, one can seriously discuss the veracity of the report only on condition that its authenticity be excluded, which would mean admitting that Vrba and Wetzler are not the true authors of the report, but only impostors.
The conclusion is that the Vrba-Wetzler report is objectively false, and those who want to attempt to prove its bona fides should previously declare it apocryphal.
These considerations lead us to the crux of the matter, which we have identified in a previous article, pointing out:
It is an indisputable fact that the 'Protocols of Auschwitz,' as written, do not withstand serious criticism and cannot constitute a reliable historical source. While from the standpoint of sound historical criticism, the problem of the reliability of the 'Protocols of Auschwitz' is certainly solved, the fundamental problem, regarding the historical reality of the extermination of the Jews in gas chambers by means of Zyklon B. remains.
Toward a solution of this problem, we are able here to submit an initial contribution.
Vrba claimed he decided to escape from Auschwitz above all to warn the Hungarian Jews and prevent their extermination:
For almost two years I had thought of escape, first selfishly because I wanted my freedom, then in a more objective way because I wanted to tell the world what was happening in Auschwitz; but now I had an imperative reason. It was no longer a question of reporting a crime, but of preventing one; of warning the Hungarians, of rousing them, of raising an army one million strong, an army that would fight rather than die.
Obviously, the indispensable premise of his mission was to convince the Hungarian Jews and the world of the reality of the alleged extermination of the Jews.
Yet despite the Vrba's claim to have been in direct contact with the members of the "Sonderkommando," in particular with Filip Müller, one of his "most valuable sources of information," the Vrba-Wetzler report, as far as the "gassings" in the crematoria are concerned, cannot originate from information supplied by members of "Sonderkommando," unless these had deliberately lied to the report's authors.
This means that the story of the extermination of the Jews presented in the Vrba-Wetzler report was worked out by persons unfamiliar with the crematoria, and above all unknown to the "Sonderkommando" members themselves.
The study of the genesis of the extermination story, based on the documents available. cannot but confirm this fact.
- Published by the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, New York 1989. Quotations and references with no further indication refer to this work.
- E. Aynat believes that Vrba and Wetzler are not the true authors of the report. See his Los "Protocolos de Auschwitz": ?Una Fuente Historica?, Alicante, Spain: Garc'a Hispán, Ed., 1990.
- Executive Office of the President, War Refugee Board, Washington D.C., German Externination Camps -- Auschwitz and Birkenau, November 1944.
- "Inquiry confirms nazi death camps. 1,715,000 Jews said to have been put to death by the Germans up to April 15," The New York Times, Monday, July 3, 1944, p.3; "Two death camps places of horrors. German establishments for mass killing of Jews described by Swiss," The New York Times, Thursday, July 6, 1944, p.6.
- Hefte von Auschwitz. Wydawnictwo Panstwowego Muzeum w Oswiecimiu, 1964, p.89.
- Hefte von Auschwitz, 8, 1964, p.89, note 125.
- In the District Court of Ontario. Between: Her Majesty the Queen and Ernst Zündel. Before: The Honourable Judge H.R. Locke and a Jury (from this point on Records of the Zündel trial), voL VI, pp.1260, 1266 1316; this drawing was accepted as proof no.15 (p. 1318).
- Ibidem, p.1322.
- Ibidem, p. 1321.
- Ibidem, vol. VII, p. 1428.
- Ibidem, vol. VI, p. 1329.
- War Refugee Board Report (see note 3), first section, p. 14.
- I Cannot Forgive, by Rudolf Vrba and Alan Bestic. Sidgwick and Jackson and Anthony Gibbs and Phillips, 1963, p. 175.
- Ibidem, p. 197.
- Records of the Zündel Trial, vol. VII, p. 1479.
- Ibidem, p.1540.
- Filip Müller, Sonderbehandlung. Drei Jahre in den Krematorien und Gaskammem von Auschwitz. Deutsche Bearbeitung von Helmut Freitag. Verlag Steinhausen, Mdnchen 1979, p.193.
- Auschwitz presenté par Léon Poliakov, Réne Julliard 1964, p. 162.
- Vrba and Bestic, op. cit., p. 16.
- Müller, op.cit., p. 29 and 94.
- War Refugee Board Report, p. 16.
- Records of the Zündel Trial, vol. VI, p. 1328.
- Ibidem, vol. VII, p. 1444.
- Ibidem, vol. VI, p. 1328; vol. VII, p. 1432.
- Vrba and Bestic, op. cit., pp. 16-17.
- Records of the Zündel Trial voL VII, p. 1409.
- Ibidem, p. 1562.
- Ibidem, p. 1571 and 1573.
- This is the actual meaning which Pressac intends when he misuses the term "authenticity. "
- From the author's foreword to Aynat, op. cit., p. 12.
- Vrba and Bestic, op.cit., p.198.
Figure 2. Plan and description of Birkenau crematoria of type I and II ( = II and III according to the more usual numeration) according to the Vrba-Wetzler report published by the War Refugee Board. From: J.C. Pressac, op.cit., p. 461. At the Zündel Trial of 1985, Vrba testified that he was the author of the plan.
Figure 3. "Schéma (diagram) 1" of J.C Pressac (op.cit., p 463), "Arrangement proposed for Krematorien of type II/III, explaining the War Refugee Board Report and based on an Auschwitz Bauleitung drawing and contemporary photographs." (A = Furnace room; B = ground-floor waiting room; C = underground waiting room; D = gas chamber.)
Pressac's diagram explains nothing. In the plan drawn by Vrba, "large hall B" is located between the "gas chamber" and the "furnace room," and is crossed by rails which connect these two rooms.
In Pressac's diagrams 1 and 2 (cfr. document 4) the same room ("large hall B") is a "hut" located outside the crematorium.
Figure 4. "Schéma (diagram) 2" in Pressac (op.cit, p. 463), Crematorium II with the stable-type hut erected in the yard to serve as a provisional undressing room, as per drawing no. 2216 of 20/3/43. (A = Furnace room; B = stable-type hut/provisional undressing room; B' = morgue 2/undressing room; C = gas chamber or morgue 1; e = future location of stairway leading to underground undressing room [not indicated on Pressacss diagram]; E = elevator; R = narrow-gauge railway.
Figure 5. "Schéma (diagram) 3" in Pressac (op.cit, p. 465), "Attempted reconstruction of the path of the rails in crematorium II (south facade)." The reconstruction is purely hypothetical and contradicts Pressac's comment about his document 12 that the rails on the right, inside the furnace room, descend "on a shallow slope towards Leichenkeller 2." (p. 464) There is no proof that the rails in the furnace room were connected to the rails of Leichenkeller 2.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1990 (Vol. 10, No. 4), pages 461-485.