Convergence or Divergence?: On Recent Evidence for Zyklon Induction Holes at Auschwitz-Birkenau Crematory II

Brian Renk

What has been described as "the most extensive judicial examination of the Holocaust period since the [1961] Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel," David Irving's libel action against Deborah Lipstadt, generated a wealth of fresh research and renewed the debate over gassing at Auschwitz during the Second World War. [See note 1] No aspect of the Auschwitz gassing claim was more contested at that trial than the evidence for and against four holes in the roof of an underground room of crematorium II at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The jousts over this evidence between Irving and the defense expert on Auschwitz architecture, Professor Robert Jan van Pelt, provided some of the trial's most heated exchanges.

Trivial as the question of openings in a roof might seem, both sides of the debate, revisionists and "exterminationists," are agreed that such holes would have been necessary for the introduction of the alleged killing agent, the cyanide-based pesticide Zyklon B. The holes are thus central to the accusation that victims were murdered by gas in a cellar of Crematorium (crematory facility or Krema) II in 1943 and 1944. Indeed, in the eyes of Professor van Pelt, considered the historical establishment's leading expert on the design and function of the Auschwitz crematoria: "Crematorium II is the most lethal building of Auschwitz. In the 2,500 square feet of this one room, more people lost their lives than any other place on this planet. 500,000 people were killed. If you would draw a map of human suffering, if you created a geography of atrocity, this would be the absolute center." [See note 2]

Revisionist investigators, mindful of Arthur Butz's opinion that Auschwitz "is the key to the whole story" of the mass gassing allegation, have long focused on that camp. [See note 3] In doing so, some revisionists have called attention to the absence of evidence for the necessary holes in the roof of the alleged gas chamber of Auschwitz's Crematorium II. In the late 1970s, when Auschwitz was administered by Poland's Communist government, the Swede Ditlieb Felderer took hundreds of photographs of the remains of the Auschwitz crematoria ruins, and noted the seeming absence of holes for introducing Zyklon B, as described in eyewitness testimony. Fred Leuchter and Germar Rudolf conducted more exacting forensic examinations of the ruins in the late 1980s and early 1990s, drawing the same conclusion. The eminent French revisionist Professor Robert Faurisson summed up the problem of the holes in 1993 with a simple slogan, "No holes, no Holocaust."

During the Irving trial it was not merely the evidence for and against the all-important holes that was in dispute, but also the manner in which that evidence was to be evaluated. In his Judgement of April 11, 2000, the Hon. Mr. Justice Charles Gray questioned whether British historian David Irving had "bent or falsified or misrepresented evidence," something that the Lipstadt defense eagerly asserted. [See note 4]

On the other hand, during the trial van Pelt invoked an explanatory concept seemingly diametrically opposed to bending the facts: "convergence of evidence." This is a process of evaluation by which independent strands of evidence, when considered together with other individual pieces of evidence, are said to indicate a common conclusion, even in the absence of a "smoking gun." [See note 5]

The chief purpose of this article is the careful examination of recent and seemingly authoritative attempts to establish the presence of roof holes in Leichenkeller (or morgue) 1 of crematory facility II, by Lipstadt expert witness Robert Jan van Pelt and others. Mindful of the concern for careful interpretation of the evidence in the Irving trial, this article will also examine the differing kinds of evidence offered for the roof openings in the light of both bending and convergence: is there an actual convergence of evidence for the holes, or has quite divergent evidence been bent and twisted in order to make it seem as if it converged?

Missing Holes

In his judgment in favor of Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books, the Hon. Mr. Justice Charles Gray summarized the contrasting arguments of the defendants and David Irving on the defense's evidence for openings in the roof of the alleged gas chamber in Crematorium II:

It is common ground that the roof of Leichenkeller I was supported by seven concrete pillars. The Defendants allege that adjacent to four of these pillars there ran hollow ducts or chimneys made of heavy wire mesh which protruded through holes in the roof where the pellets were poured into them and ran down into the chamber below. These ducts were 70 square centimeters in size but tapered at the top where they passed through the roof. It is Irving's case that these ducts never existed. He made that assertion because, he said, there is no trace in what remains of the roof of any holes through it. Furthermore the chimneys do not appear in the blueprints for the construction of the Crematoria. Part of the roof of Leichenkeller I is intact, although it has pancaked down on to the floor. Irving produced a photograph which appears to show no sign of any hole in the roof. [See note 6]

In his next sentence Justice Gray pointed to a major concession by Robert Jan van Pelt, the defense's expert witness on the Auschwitz crematoria: "Van Pelt conceded in one of his supplementary reports that there is no sign of the holes." Or, as van Pelt wrote in his expert report for the Lipstadt defense: "Today, these four small holes that connected the wire-mesh columns and the chimneys cannot be observed in the ruined remains of the concrete slab." [See note 7]

Under cross-examination by David Irving on January 28, 2000, van Pelt admitted that he had "frequently visited the roof of the alleged factory of death," but had not seen the requisite holes there:

Irving: You have not seen any holes in the roof, have you, in the -- when you went there? You have not found any holes?

Van Pelt: I have not seen the holes for the columns, no.

Irving: Not for the introduction of the cyanide?

Van Pelt: No. [See note 8]

In his expert report, van Pelt advanced an odd rationale for the absence of these holes:

Yet does this mean they were never there? We know that after the cessation of the gassings in the Fall of 1944 all the gassing equipment was removed, which implies both the wire-mesh columns and the chimneys. What would have remained would have been the four narrow holes in the slab. While there is not certainty in this particular matter, it would have been logical to attach at the location where the columns had been some formwork at the bottom of the gas chamber ceiling, and pour some concrete in the holes, and thus restore the slab. [See note 9]

During cross-examination, Irving poured scorn on this argument. As the BBC News Online reported, Irving told the court: "I do not accept that the Nazis, in the last frantic days of the camp, when they were in a blue funk, would have gone around with buckets of cement filling the holes that they were going to dynamite." [See note 10]

A 'Restoration' So Perfect It Left No Traces?

There are sound technical reasons for joining Irving in rejecting van Pelt's claim that the Germans filled, let alone "restored," the alleged Zyklon holes in the roof of Leichenkeller 1. In the first place, it would simply not have been possible to "restore the slab," as van Pelt alleged was done.

The concrete roofs of the Leichenkeller were reinforced with lengths of rebar (short for reinforcing bar), steel rods placed in concrete when it is poured. If holes had been designed prior to the original concrete pour, and created by means of formwork placed to exclude inflowing concrete (as Van Pelt believes), then naturally the steel reinforcement rods would have been confined to the surrounding concrete.

To be sure, it would have been possible to "pour some concrete in the holes" at a later time. If at the end of the war wooden formwork was placed beneath the holes and concrete poured into them (van Pelt's scenario), then square blocks of concrete would have formed within the apertures after drying. These blocks could not have been affixed to the existing rebar grid. Indeed, there are only two ways in which these areas could have been partially reinforced to prevent the concrete blocks from falling out of the holes upon removal of the formwork:

  • chipping or cutting the sides of the apertures to create ridges, or divets, to secure the blocks in place, or else increasing the size of the holes on top, so that the blocks poured to fit could not fall through the holes in the ceiling below;
  • drilling horizontally into the concrete roof on all four sides of each opening, allowing the placement of steel dowels, which would support the concrete blocks once they cured.

Neither of these construction techniques would have secured the concrete in the holes for long, however. In early 1945 Auschwitz personnel inserted powerful charges in the concrete roof support columns immediately adjacent to the alleged positions of the filled-in holes, and then dynamited the Leichenkeller roof. [See note 11]

Van Pelt's claim that concrete was simply poured into the holes, and then blown out when the building was dynamited, does little to advance the argument that the holes existed. As Irving observed, it would seem senseless for the Germans to have filled the holes with concrete, and then blown the filler blocks out by placing massive dynamite charges directly beneath them a few weeks later. More important, despite several onsite searches van Pelt has conceded, as we have seen, that today the alleged holes "cannot be observed in the ruined remains of the concrete slab."

Let us consider what would necessarily be visible had the holes, or their concrete fillers, somehow survived the explosion. Both would be easy to spot today, even in the ruins. The places where concrete had been poured long after the initial pour of the roof slab would be easily distinguishable from the surrounding slab. Variations in concrete mixing compounds (ratios of sand, cement, and water, etc., as well as consistency of source for materials), curing conditions (temperature and humidity), drying lines and hairline cracks due to shrinkage, and aging (yellowing) all contribute to variations in appearance and consistency in finished concrete products. The "restored" areas of the concrete roof slab would be recognizable, from above and below, as concrete repair patches. Van Pelt, who consults with architects in his faculty at the University of Waterloo, should certainly know this. Yet despite numerous inspections of the ruins of the roof slab of Crematorium II by van Pelt and his allies, to date none of these researchers has been able to discover any traces of such a restoration. This doubtless explains why van Pelt, for all his architectural expertise on Auschwitz, made no attempt at the Irving-Lipstadt trial to present physical evidence for the murderous holes of Crematorium II, whether filled in or not.

The Problem of The Wire Mesh Columns

Unable to find physical evidence of Zyklon-induction holes at the site, or a single reference to them in the camp's voluminous design and construction records, van Pelt was forced to rely on the postwar testimony of two Auschwitz survivors, Henryk Tauber and Michal Kula.

Cross-examined on his impression of the former Sonderkommando worker Henryk Tauber, who gave his testimony before a Soviet-Polish investigative commission on May 24, 1945, Van Pelt answered: "Tauber is an amazingly good witness ... very precise in general." [See note 12]

In his testimony Henryk Tauber described, in meticulous detail, the means by which Zyklon B granules were supposedly introduced into the room. According to Tauber (and thus van Pelt), the holes in the roof opened to accommodate an introduction device constructed of wire mesh:

The roof of the gas chamber was supported by concrete pillars running down the middle of its length. On either side of these pillars there were four others, two on each side. The sides of these pillars, which went up through the roof, were of heavy wire mesh. Inside this grid, there was another of finer mesh and inside that a third of very fine mesh. Inside this last mesh cage there was a removable can that was pulled out with a wire to recover the pellets from which the gas had evaporated. [See note 13]

Van Pelt, in both his expert report and his cross-examination, augmented Tauber's testimony with that of Michal Kula, who claimed to have constructed the wire mesh "pillars" described by Tauber. On June 11, 1945, Kula testified to examining magistrate Jan Sehn (like Tauber's questioners a Communist functionary):

Among other things the metal workshop made the false showers intended for the gas chambers, as well as the wire-mesh columns for the introduction of the contents of the tins with Zyklon into the gas chambers.

These columns were around 3 meters high [ca. 9 feet, 10 inches], and they were 70 centimeters square in plan. Such a column consisted of 6 wire screens which were built the one within the other. The inner screen was made from 3 millimeter [ca. one-eighth of an inch] thick wire, fastened to iron corner posts of 50 by 10 millimeters. Such iron corner posts were on each corner of the column and connected on the top in the same manner. The openings of the wire mesh were 45 millimeters square. The second screen was made in the same manner, and constructed within the column at 150 millimeters distance from the first. The openings of the second were around 25 millimeters square. In the corners these screens were connected to each other by iron posts. The third part of this column could be moved. It was an empty column with a square footprint of around 150 millimeters made of sheet zinc. At the top it was closed by a metal sheet, and at the bottom with a square base. At a distance of 25 millimeters from the sides of these columns were soldered tin corners supported by tin brackets.

On these corners were mounted a thin mesh with openings of about one millimeter square. This mesh ended at the bottom of the column and from here ran in the [Verlaenderung] of the screen a tin frame until the top of the column. The contents of a Zyklon tin were thrown from the top on the distributor, which allowed for a equal distribution of the Zyklon to all four sides of the column. After the evaporation of the gas the whole middle column was taken out." [See note 14]

According to van Pelt, the wire mesh devices have vanished: "The wire mesh columns had been totally dismantled after the cessation of gassings and before the demolition of the crematoria, and no remains were found." [See note 15]

These two testimonies are not merely van Pelt's chief evidence: they are his only evidence of substance for the existence of openings through which Zyklon could have been introduced into the alleged chamber in Crematorium II, ground zero of the Holocaust myth.

The Incredible, Undetectable, Shrinking Zyklon Holes

The two testimonies on which van Pelt is constrained to rely are not without their pitfalls for the champions of the holes. It will be remembered that in his Judgment, Justice Gray took note of van Pelt's claim, made under cross-examination, that the wire mesh columns described by van Pelt's witnesses "were 70 square centimeters [etc.] in size but tapered at the top where they passed through the roof." Van Pelt defended this position at some length in the following joust with David Irving in London's High Court on January 25, 2000:

Irving: I only wanted to know roughly what size of wire mesh we are talking about, what the width of this column going up to the ceiling was. We have probably got a pretty clear picture of [the] kind of thing it was, larger than a drainpipe.

Van Pelt: Yes. Kula says these columns were around 3 metres high and they [were] 70 metres square.

Irving: 70 metres?

Van Pelt: 70 centimetres.

Irving: The wire mesh columns?

Van Pelt: Yes.

Irving: 70 centimetres is of the order of 2 feet 6 inches?

Van Pelt: Yes, a little less, 2 feet three inches.

Irving: So this hole in the roof or these holes in the roof, how many wire mesh columns were there, four?

Van Pelt: Four.

Irving: So the holes in the roof would have been up to 2 foot 6 inches across?

Van Pelt: Absolutely not, because the whole column may be 2 feet 4 inches, but Zyklon B is only introduced right in the centre piece. The centre piece, we have concentric columns, so ultimately the centre piece can be a rather narrow thing, so the hole through the roof could have been a relatively narrow pipe.

Irving: But we are told here he had a concrete cover with two handles covering this whole, which rather suggests something larger than a tennis ball?

Van Pelt: But the concrete cover, we have a picture of these actual chimneys in the documents. Of course you do not when you create this pipe which comes up out the centre of the wire mesh columns, of course you take a larger kind of little chimney around it.

Justice Gray: As a funnel?

Van Pelt: As a funnel, yes. Like a chimney itself always is wider than the actual smoke channel going through it. [See note 16]

Here, size very much matters, because the 70 cm square roof holes that Irving is arguing for are in fact on the order of eight times greater in area than the 25 cm or so square apertures for the "centre piece[s]" that van Pelt insists on. For if persistent searches of crematorium roof have yielded nothing like a proper Zyklon introduction aperture, then the smaller the missing holes are supposed to have been, the better.

Yet van Pelt's contention that only the central core of the wire mesh column continued through the roof, and thus "... the hole through the roof could have been a relatively narrow pipe," misrepresents van Pelt's only evidence, the testimony of Tauber and Kula. As Kula stated to the examining magistrate, Sehn:

These columns were around 3 meters high, and they were 70 centimetres square in plan ... The third part of this column could be moved. It was an empty column with a square footprint of around 150 millimeters made of sheet zinc.

In Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (1989), anti-revisionist French researcher Jean-Claude Pressac furnished a drawing of these wire mesh devices as described by Kula. [See note 17] It depicts each of the wire columns as "around 3 meters high." The drawing shows a type of removable basket in the center of the device. Yet without any basis in Kula's testimony, and in contradiction to the drawing, Van Pelt asserted that the outer sides of these rectangular columns rose only to the ceiling, and invented a "relatively narrow pipe" (contradicting his witness's description of a removable "empty column"), that might have fit in van Pelt's four elusive and arbitrarily diminutive roof openings, if only he could find them -- and somehow lay hands on the missing four narrow pipes.

Kula's stated dimensions (a column 3 meters high and 70 centimeters square) cannot be reconciled with van Pelt's claim that the holes, if they existed, were smaller than 70 cm square. Architectural drawings indicate that the distance from the floor to the ceiling (or underside of the roof) was 2.4 meters. The roof itself was 20 cm (.2 meters, or eight inches) thick. Kula's columns would have thus exceeded the distance from the floor to the top of the roof by an additional 40 cm (.4 meters, or 16 inches), and to the underside by an additional 60 cm (.6 meter, or 2 feet). Nor does Kula's testimony give any support to van Pelt's claim that only a fixed, narrow pipe, or column, continued through the roof.

In his efforts to demonstrate that once there were holes -- small holes -- in the roof, van Pelt proclaimed that survivor witness Henryk Tauber's testimony "converged" with Kula's descriptions. And indeed, despite various discrepancies, the two witness in fact converged on one vital point.

Tauber stated: "The sides of these pillars, which went up through the roof, were of heavy wire mesh." Tauber's description of the columns offers no support to van Pelt's contention that only "a rather narrow thing" of lesser dimensions continued through the roof. Tauber makes clear that the outermost layer of Kula's 70 cm squared wire pillars "went up through the roof," all the more so since he distinguishes in his testimony between the outer "heavy wire mesh" and inner grids of "finer mesh" and "very fine mesh."

That claim strengthens another argument against the smaller roof holes, based on the size of the columns as described by van Pelt's source, Kula. According to his testimony, he built the elaborately constructed columns, complete with "soldered tin corners," in the camp metalwork shop -- not in the Leichenkeller. Even if these 3 m tall, "heavy wire mesh" devices had been somehow maneuvered down the stairs and through the door into the Leichenkeller, they could not have been stood vertical from within a room with a 2.4 m high ceiling. Thus, if such columns existed, they can only have been installed by way of holes in the roof wide enough to admit them at the dimensions claimed for their base: 70 cm square.

Van Pelt, in searching for openings rather smaller than 70 centimeters square, has misrepresented the testimony of the two witnesses on whom he has staked his case (in the absence of any forensic or documentary evidence) for the existence of the holes. His radical distortion of the testimony of his key witnesses, conscious or not, would seem to suggest a motive: as we shall see below, if there had been openings of 70 cm (over two feet) square on the roof, they would be easily discernible even today. And, as we have already learned from van Pelt's admission, the wire-mesh chimneys have disappeared, too.

Recent Investigations: The Holes 'Rediscovered'?

Wartime Photographs

Van Pelt sought to corroborate his negligible testimonial evidence for the Zyklon holes through wartime photographs that show the roof of Leichenkeller 1 of Birkenau's crematorium II. In his attempts to find images of the holes and their "chimneys" on photos taken on the ground and from the air, van Pelt ran up against the findings, not only of revisionist researchers, but also those of maverick Holocaust researcher Charles Provan. Provan has provided an in-depth analysis of the air and ground photos in his booklet No Holes? No Holocaust? A Study of the Holes in the Roof of Leichenkeller I of Krematorium II at Birkenau), which contests the revisionist position. While Provan agrees with van Pelt that hundreds of thousands of Jews were gassed in Leichenkeller 1 of Crema II by Zyklon dropped through holes in the roof, his interpretation of the evidence for the existence of these holes is often diametrically opposed to van Pelt's.

Ground Photos

Van Pelt points to a photo from the Auschwitz archives, taken in February 1943. [See note 18] It shows what appear to be objects on the roof. Provan has independently verified through a perspective drawing, however, what revisionist Germar Rudolf earlier established: the three objects are all on the southern half of the roof, contradicting the "eyewitnesses" and (as will be seen) the aerial photos. [See note 19]

There exists, however, another ground photo, taken in late January 1943, which shows nothing but an eloquent blanket of snow on the completed roof of the Leichenkeller. [See note 20] If, as van Pelt maintains, the holes had been included in the original concrete pour of the roof, it would have been senseless and potentially hazardous for the "chimney" surrounds to have been formed and poured appreciably later than the roof was completed. Aside from the inefficiency in construction technique, leaving the holes unprotected for weeks in winter would have caused massive waterproofing problems. [See note 21]

Cross-examined by Irving about this picture, Van Pelt was quite unable to explain the absence of the holes and of their superstructures (or "chimneys") that he identified in the February 1943 picture (above). At first, on January 26, van Pelt stated that the chimneys could not be seen because they were buried under earth and snow:

OK. Then the explanation is simple. What happens is that after the dirt was brought on top of the roof of the gas chamber or morgue No. 1, the protection [protrusion] would have been less. If we then had snow on top of that, it is very unlikely we would have seen much of these little chimneys. [See note 22]

Two days later, evidently recognizing his mistake, van Pelt changed his testimony. Realizing that the photo shows that there were only a few inches of snow on the roof, he stated that the holes would have been covered with boards, implying that the "introduction chimneys" had not yet been built in late January. [See note 23] Van Pelt's radical modification of his interpretation of this basic document, which must have been known to him, neither inspires confidence in his expertise nor in his claim that holes were made in the roof of Leichenkeller 1 of Crematorium II at the time it was constructed.

For Provan, on the other hand, this photo shows:

... the clearest view of the gas chamber in any of the three [Kamann photos], before the roof was covered with earth. The roof is covered with snow, and no vents for Zyklon B are visible. Since the picture is dated from January 20-22 1943, we can deduce that any holes for Zyklon B insertion must have been put in after that date. [See note 24]

That the Kamann ground photo of late January 1943 offers no evidence whatsoever for van Pelt's unlikely hypothesis of invisible holes covered with similarly invisible boards, with the concrete chimneys yet to be added, is all too obvious. Provan is quite right to argue that the photo militates against the construction of holes and chimneys by the date it was taken, and to recognize that in fact the picture provides no evidence that the holes and chimneys were ever added. On the ground photos of the roof of the alleged gas chamber, then, we have anything but a convergence of interpretation of the evidence from these two researchers.

Air Photos

Van Pelt cited aerial reconnaissance photographs taken by the Allies in 1944, which were first published by the CIA in 1979. The most important of these, taken on August 25, 1944, shows four dark areas on the Leichenkeller roof. These areas, van Pelt argued, correspond to the chimneys over the holes, and their shadows. [See note 25] Irving responded by pointing out that the four dark areas visible on the photo of August 25, 1944, do not match the positions of any holes in the ruins of the roof today. (As we have seen, van Pelt had conceded that the alleged Zyklon insertion holes cannot be found in those ruins.)

Provan's analysis of the air photos is consistent with that of revisionist researcher John Ball. [See note 26] He notes that the necessary holes are said to have been covered "at ground level" (that is, above the layer of earth heaped onto the roof -- not at roof level), and surrounded by low covers, according to Myklos Nyiszli and other self-professed eyewitnesses. Yet, as Provan correctly observes, if these areas (he calls them "smudgey marks") on the air photos "are shadows [cast by the low chimneys], the height has been calculated as about 3 meters, using the known height of the Krematorium chimney, and the length of its shadow as a reference." (three meters is about nine feet, ten inches.) Indeed, Provan "agrees with Ball that some of the marks which show up on the August 25, 1944, reconnaissance photograph are in fact drawn in," and notes that "some of the photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau show roof marks where no Zyklon B vents are supposed to be." [See note 27]

Provan fails, however, to alert his readers to the key problem, noted by Jean-Claude Pressac, posed by the marks on this and several other air photos:

According to the American aerial photograph of 24th August 1944, the four introduction points were located along a line running the length of the room in the eastern half. In the present ruins, two of these openings are still visible at the southern end but in the western half.

Nobody up to now seems to have been concerned by this contradiction, nor to have explained it. [See note 28]

According to van Pelt and Provan, basing themselves on Tauber's testimony, two of the holes should be located on the western half of the roof. As Pressac observes, however, this and the other air photos invariably display the four disputed marks on the Leichenkeller roof "along a line running the length of the room in the eastern half." Here one must recall Henryk Tauber's statement: "The roof of the gas chamber was supported by concrete pillars running down the middle of its length. On either side of these pillars [emphasis added] there were four others, two on each side."

If Tauber's testimony is correct, then the aerial photos should show two dots on each side of the longitudinal central support beam. But as Pressac has noted, the Tauber statement and the air photos contradict each other: the areas van Pelt identifies as holes on the air photos are staggered slightly, but are all on the east of the central support beam; Tauber testified that two were on the west side of the beam. The two sources of evidence do not converge.

Of the marks on the air photos, Provan writes: "No matter what one thinks of the authenticity of the smudgey marks, it is impossible to view them, whether authentic or not, as 'vents.'" Thus, in Provan's words, air photos "cannot be used to prove or disprove that the underground rooms were gassing facilities." [See note 29] Van Pelt has been able to point to no evidence that contradicts Provan.

'Genocide by Telepathy' Revisited?

Having noted the absence of photographic evidence for the Zyklon roof holes, Provan makes an important concession. Regarding the value of the documentary and photographic evidence in Auschwitz and Allied records for demonstrating the holes, he writes: "[T]he eyewitness testimony concerning the underground gas chamber of Krema II is the main evidential basis for historians of the Judenausrottung (extermination of the Jews). The other forms of evidence used to support the eyewitness accounts of holes in the roof of the gas chamber are unable to supply proof that these Zyklon B introduction holes existed." [See note 30]

While such findings might daunt a researcher of lesser persistence and imagination, Provan has discovered a rationale for the absence of the holes from the construction documents and photos: the need for secrecy that surrounded the Auschwitz gassing operation. Provan cites Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, who testified at Nuremberg on April 1, 1946: "I immediately got in touch with the chief of a construction unit and told him that I needed a large crematorium. I told him that we were going to receive a large number of sick people, but I did not give him my real reason." [See note 31]

Provan suggests that Karl Bischoff, chief of construction projects at Auschwitz-Birkenau, was not told of the building's "real purpose" until after the building's completion, if ever. Provan believes this explains why the holes were broken through the roof only after the building was completed, in contradiction to van Pelt's thesis.

Provan's suggestion creates many problems in place of the single problem he is trying to solve. During the same interrogation cited by Provan, Höss claimed to have sent the plans for the gas chamber in Leichenkeller 1 of Crematorium II to Himmler "after we had completed our plans," and "after I had changed them in accordance with the real purpose of his instructions," whereupon "they were approved." If Höss's story about the holes, taken in its totality, is true, then new drawings, amended drawings and plans, and on-site specifications for new construction and alterations to planned facilities would have all been necessary. Putting holes in the roof of Leichenkeller 1 would have required construction specifications outlined by and for the engineers, construction foremen, fabricators, and installers upon construction. These designations would also have been mentioned in numerous correspondences in the Zentralbauleitung (main construction office) files. They are not. Where are the drawings that were changed "in accordance with the real purposes of [Himmler's] instructions"? And why not, in view of all the above, include the holes in the original construction of the roof? Formwork would have been constructed and placed differently, the placement of the rebar grids would have been modified to allow for holes and to compensate for loss of strength in the surrounding areas of the roof, and the support beam and columns would also require engineering modifications to compensate for loss of strength at the all-important slab-column junctures (with several tons of soil, snow, and rainwater also requiring careful engineering considerations).

Most importantly, the waterproof membrane would have required special attention and modification before holes and their alleged chimney surrounds could have been incorporated into the roof construction. Simply placing the membrane (bituminous felt) under the thin, permeable concrete topcoat and then through (what would later become) the edges of the holes would have been disastrous. And beyond that, the supposed wire mesh devices described by witnesses would have required extensive design and installation requirements.

Provan is mistaken in stating that the drawings to be consulted "would only include details for a crematorium, not a homicidal gassing facility." How, for example, would secret drawings or plans for "wire mesh pillars" sent only to Himmler have been transmitted to Michal Kula in the metalwork shop months after these items had been deemed necessary? How could Kula have built these elaborate objects without such a drawing? Is this another example of what Robert Faurisson has called "genocide by telepathy"? [See note 32]

Here Provan is also at cross purposes with Pressac. The French researcher has labored through the Auschwitz records and at the Auschwitz sites to unearth, in the absence of hard evidence, supposed "criminal traces" of the gas chambers from bits of hardware, carpentry, and construction records. Much of Pressac's work here has been embraced by van Pelt. As I have written elsewhere, however, the idea of recognizable criminal traces creates a big problem for Provan's interpretation:

If the crematoria architects did not know what the "real" purpose of the building was, then all of the so-called "criminal traces" of Pressac, such as the alleged removal of the corpse chute [sic], the word "Vergasungskeller" appearing in a civilian firm's worksheet, the design of the ventilation system, and all provisions for gas-tightness, etc., must then also have necessarily been understood by the architects as non-homicidal in purpose. If the holes were deliberately excluded from an alleged criminal conversion as a matter of secrecy, then no aspect of the alleged criminal conversion could have preceded the completion of the building's construction. Either the building was adapted for criminal use prior to completion or it was not. If it was, there should be evidence of "Zyklon B holes" in the construction photographs [and drawings] of 1943, but there is not. [See note 33]

In Provan's opinion, holes were subsequently "knocked" or "punched" through the solid concrete after the concrete roof was poured. He refers to the testimony of Rudolf Höss regarding the conversion of the Leichenkeller of Krematorium I at the Auschwitz main camp as evidence for an alleged homicidal conversion. However, the problem arises that Krematorium I was built and used as a morgue, and is alleged to have only later been converted for homicidal usage in 1941. Krematorium II was also supposedly designed for non-homicidal usage, but, according to van Pelt, was designated for homicidal adaptation in August 1942, more than 5 months prior to the concrete pour of the Leichenkeller roof. [See note 34]

To summarize, it would have made no sense to knock holes through a solidly poured concrete roof, or to build alleged chimney-surrounds for the wire mesh devices after the holes were created. Provan theorizes that the concrete was first poured, then some time later broken away where required, then poured again to create "chimneys." These "chimneys" would have required special waterproofing at their bases, to keep the rainwater and melting snow of January-February 1943 from seeping through the holes. As has been noted above, all of this could have been accomplished in one operation by setting wooden formwork to create the necessary chimneys and apertures during the construction of the roof.

There is no evidence that any of this was done, just as there are no openings that would have accomodated the wire pillars described by Michal Kula.

In this context, Provan's invocation of an ill-defined and improbable commitment to secrecy by Höss (is the commandant supposed to have jack-hammered the holes himself by moonlight?) as the warrant for otherwise unaccountably slipshod methods emerges as more rationale than explanation.

Provan's Eyewitness Problem

In contrast to Van Pelt and other historians of Auschwitz, who have been content to rely on excerpts from a handful of testimonies, Provan has presented sixteen mostly contradictory witness statements on the alleged holes and their attributes. He attempts to reconcile these testimonies with investigations he conducted at the site, although oddly enough in No Holes he starts from the testimony, and then proceeds to his on-site investigation.

Provan discounts seven of the testimonies as "of lesser value," deeming nine of them to be "of greater value." It must be stated that his analysis of these testimonies is not always clear, and his criteria seem to have left ample room for circularity. While some of his testimonies of "lesser value" can be easily impeached (Janda Weiss' claim that small children were thrown into the subterranean Leichenkeller through a non-existent window), others seem to be excluded for failing to match facts not yet established. Thus, Provan discounts the testimony of Filip Friedman because Friedman places the hollow pillars in the "four corners of the Leichenkeller, which is not true." [See note 35]

Interestingly, Provan did not include the deposition of Michal Kula, who described 70 cm "wire mesh pillars," in the testimony he analyses. He thus ignores one of van Pelt's two star witnesses, although he has included witnesses that describe such oddities as Weiss's non-existent "windows through which the Nazis could toss children," the throwing of "gas bombs," or what Provan calls "things impossible to see [from outside the crematorium]." [See note 36] The reason for this omission seems obvious. Kula specifically stated that he constructed the "wire mesh pillars," but the dimensions he gave (3 meters high x 70 cm squared) are impossible to reconcile with the absence of anything like holes of that size on the Leichenkeller roof, as the failed efforts of van Pelt and (as we shall see below) Provan abundantly demonstrate.

Having omitted Kula's testimony, Provan considers the statement of Karl Schultze, a Topf employee who is said to have installed the ventilation system in Leichenkeller 1 on March 11-13, 1943, to be of great importance. In 1946, Schultze was asked about the "internal arrangement of the gas chamber." He described it as follows: "The building was eight meters wide and thirty meters long. Inside it was completely empty. The height came to 2.6 meters. In the ceiling were four square openings, 25 x 25 centimeters." [See note 37]

It must be noted that Schultze gave accurate outside dimensions for the building, which he could only have been gleaned from the architectural drawings (the inside dimensions were 7 meters wide and 2.4 meters in height), rather than personal observation. Provan seems unconcerned that Schultze's statement contradicts the claim that wire mesh pillars had been installed ("inside it was completely empty"). Nor does Schultze mention the alleged "concrete chimneys." These are remarkable omissions of observation, considering the lateness of the known dates on which the ventilation system was installed (mid-late February 1943).

Evidently what matters to Provan is that he has found a witness who gave dimensions for smaller holes (25 x 25 cm), holes that could possibly be shown to have existed in the roof.

The Holes Discovered?

We have established that Robert van Pelt has misread the Tauber and Kula descriptions of "wire mesh pillars," which actually strongly imply an outside dimension of 70 cm squared, a dimension that would have carried through the roof, as these devices are also described as "approximately 3 meters" high. We have established, on the evidence presented so far, that there are no holes of that dimension in the ruins of Leichenkeller I of crematorium II.

Unlike Van Pelt, Provan claims to have found the holes in the rubble. Are there smaller holes in the existing ruins of the roof? Yes. Are they problematic? Yes, but not for revisionists.

It is a physical certainty that Leichenkeller I was dynamited in 1945. The violence of that explosion tore a number of apertures and cracks in the roof slab. Since 1945, additional apertures have been created. For example, revisionists have written rather extensively of the two large manually created holes in the southwestern part of the roof, holes located in the wrong areas for them to have been a "Zyklon B introduction ports" to judge from the aerial photos and the "convergence" of van Pelt and Provan in accepting the testimony of Henryk Tauber. The rebar in these areas was either cut back or bent back, demonstrating that these holes are post-war constructs. One of these openings, located next to the first of seven support pillars, is simply an enlargement of a hole that was created when the building was dynamited. The rebar grid and cut rebar tips are visible in the present ruins. There is a crack emanating from the area where the concrete support pillar came to rest, one meter away, continuing through the hole to the other side. This crack would have made it easier for the Soviets or Polish Communists to chisel out the area after the war. Conversely, there is no indication that this hole existed prior to the pouring of the concrete roof. Finally, it is too large to have been a Zyklon B port of less than 1 ft. (i.e., 25 cm) square, and too small to have been 70cm square. [See note 38]

Running down the middle of the length of Leichenkeller 1 was a central support beam, 40cm in width and height. Seven concrete pillars were placed at even intervals beneath the length of this beam, 3.8 meters apart from center to center. This central support beam was extensively damaged by explosive charges placed in those areas in 1945. Provan has identified three areas, in immediate proximity to the central concrete support beam, as possible locations of Zyklon B holes. These areas of broken concrete are located next to the areas where the first, third, and fifth concrete pillars were located.

Provan writes:

We consider it quite significant that [two holes] were located immediately to the east of the central roof column [beam], each of them right next to a supporting pillar (in these cases, pillars 3 and 5). It should be noted that the central column to the west of both holes is destroyed, with only the rebars remaining. The roof above the reinforcement bars is also destroyed in both locations. [See note 39]

The case for the number and location of the alleged Zyklon holes of Crematorium II, as well as for their existence, depends on testimony, as Provan acknowledged. At the Irving-Lipstadt trial, van Pelt presented a large number of documents to the court, in an attempt to validate the testimonial evidence. Judge Gray recognized "the force of many of Irving's comments upon some of those categories [of evidence]. He [Irving] is right to point out that the contemporaneous documents, such as drawings, plans, correspondence with contractors and the like, yield little clear evidence of the existence of gas chambers designed to kill humans". Gray also wrote that "the photographic evidence for the existence of chimneys protruding through the roof of morgue 1 at crematorium 2 is, I accept, hard to interpret."

The key witness, for both van Pelt and Provan, is Henryk Tauber. Tauber asserted that there were four holes, two west of the Leichenkeller central roof beam, and two east of it. The "smudges" or "dots" on the air photos are staggered, slightly zig-zagged. If Tauber's testimony and the air photo dots are to be accepted together, then the existing holes must traverse the longitudinal central support beam, with two on each side. Provan has identified two successive apertures, both east of the roof beam. As Pressac noted, however, the Tauber statement and the air photo features contradict each other insofar as the air photos show areas identified as holes staggering slightly only on the east side; Tauber claimed that two were on the west side of the beam. These two sources of evidence, as Pressac recognizes, do not "converge." Provan's on-site investigations have done nothing more than highlight this irreconcilable discrepancy. He has selected openings in the roof next to support pillars which are no different than another opening beside a pillar that cannot have been, on the basis of his evidence, the location of a "Zyklon B introduction port." Charles Provan, through his labors on site at Leichenkeller 1, has also shown conclusively that "wire mesh pillars" of the dimensions (70 cm square) described by Michal Kula and Henryk Tauber could not have have existed, which is also a problem for van Pelt.

It is a pity that Provan seems not to have consulted Pressac's 1989 book to corroborate the significance of his observations. There Pressac published a photo, which he took from inside the Leichenkeller, of the area surrounding the second support pillar. [See note 40] No witness or researcher has suggested that a Zyklon B port was located here. Nor would it make sense to suggest that. Significantly, Pressac's photo clearly shows the same characteristics that Provan observes at 1, 3, and 5. The concrete at the juncture of the supporting pillar and the central roof beam has been shattered by explosive charges. The roof has shifted to the east slightly, and a square hole has been created in the roof directly above and to the east of the pillar. Two pieces of rebar connect the hole to the support pillar. It is obvious that the square aperture in this area of the roof was created during the explosion, exactly as at pillars 3 and 5, and as at pillar 1 in the opposite direction (in the latter area, the roof shifted westward during the explosion). The roof lifted and settled, and the 20cm roof slab was broken apart, probably along rebar lines. There is no mystery here: the violent displacement of the roof created apertures.

Conclusion

On the matter of the missing roof holes of Leichenkeller 1 of Crematorium II, Justice Gray recognized that "Irving's argument deserves to be taken seriously," and that "in the end, the task for an historian is to weigh the evidence of the absence of the signs of holes in the roof of the morgue against the opposing evidence that there were chimneys running through the roof." [See note 41]

This paper is not merely the product of a gracious acceptance of Gray's historical challenge, for it seeks not only to weigh the evidence for and against the presence of the holes, but also the manner in which advocates of the holes have advanced that evidence. We have demonstrated that at nearly every instance in their evaluation of the admittedly slender evidence for these critical openings, van Pelt, Provan, Pressac, and Shermer have differed among themselves on what they have found. Van Pelt has scoured the ruins of the crematorium roof, and found nothing. Provan has done likewise, and says he's found the holes. While each claims smaller holes than testified to by the key witness, the man who swore he manufactured the wire mesh pillars that went through the roof holes, van Pelt accepts his testimony, and then distorts it; Provan disregards it. Van Pelt claims that the holes were made when the roof was poured; Provan claims they were broken through weeks later. Van Pelt sees holes and chimneys in contemporaneous photographs where Provan sees none. Their colleague Pressac notes that aerial photos show the holes on a part of the roof at odds with van Pelt and Pressac's witness testimony; Pressac, like van Pelt, misses that the marking on the air photo cannot show the chimneys or the holes. Shermer has tilted the photo so the holes will seem to be in line with the testimony favored by van Pelt and Provan.

It is Shermer who has made a mantra out of "convergence of evidence." He found a willing echo from the Lipstadt expert in the London court. To survey the surreal divergence of these Holocaust savants in their diverse fumblings for the missing holes, as they warp and twist each bit of fact and fancy to substantiate the holes, is to understand that for them, at least, "convergence of evidence" stands for contrivance of evidence.

If Zyklon holes in the roof of Leichenkeller 1 had been there, as described by the most important witnesses within months after the capture of Auschwitz, indisputable evidence of their existence would still be discernible there today. But there is none, and the efforts of the most qualified exterminationist expert and the most diligent exterminationist amateur to account for the absence of that evidence, and of any contemporaneous evidence other than statements from a Soviet show trial and its successors, has produced nothing but a tragicomedy for the Holocaust industry. In fact, there were no Zyklon holes at Crematorium II of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the absence of those humble openings leaves the Auschwitz myth as blasted as the concrete, and as contorted as this rebar, in the ruins of the morgue there today.

Notes

  1. Steve Lipman, "Holocaust Denial Trial: Do We Care?," Jewish Week, February 24, 2000. Deborah Lipstadt is the author of Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (NY: Free Press, 1993). Penguin Books Ltd was the other principal defendant in Irving's libel suit.
  2. Transcript, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter, Jr., 1999, a documentary film directed by Errol Morris.
  3. Arthur Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (Newport Beach, Cal.: Institute for Historical Review, 1993), p. 14.
  4. The Hon. Justice Gray's Judgment on Tuesday 11th April 2000 in the High Court of Justice 1996 I. No. 113, Queen's Bench Division (David John Cawdell Irving vs. Penguin Books Limited & Deborah E. Lipstadt), Section 13.127. Available on-line at http://www.fpp.co.uk/ (internet). Hereinafter: Judgement.
  5. Michael Shermer, "Proving the Holocaust," Skeptic 2, no.4, pp. 41-43. Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, Denying the Holocaust: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 31-35, 117-119, 133-137, and 249-251. Expert Opinion of Robert Jan van Pelt, D. Lit., Professor of Architecture at the University of Waterloo Ontario, Canada, on Instructions of Davenport Lyons and Mishcon de Reya, Solicitors, for the Purposes of Assisting the Queen's Bench Division in the High Court in London in the Case between David John Cawdell Irving, Plaintiff, and Penguin Books Limited and Deborah E. Lipstadt, Defendants (copyright 1999 by Robert Jan van Pelt), part four {cf. note 7, 9}, "Chapter VII: Auschwitz and Holocaust Denial," pp. 3-5. Hereinafter: van Pelt expert report. MS-Word document courtesy of David Irving.
  6. Judgement, Section 7.92.
  7. Van Pelt expert report, "Chapter IX, The Leuchter Report," p. 295. It should be noted that van Pelt, in the sentence quoted, properly distinguishes between the alleged wire mesh devices and chimneys; Justice Gray seems to have conflated them in the summary from his Judgement quoted above.
  8. In the High Court of Justice 1996 I. No. 113 Queen's Bench Division, Royal Courts of Justice, London. January 28, 2000. P-129, P-130. Hereinafter: Transcript.
  9. Van Pelt expert report, "Chapter IX, The Leuchter Report," p. 295. Also, see Judgement, 7.118: "The Defendants accept that the physical evidence remaining at the site of Auschwitz provides little evidence to support the claim that gas chambers were operated there for genocidal purposes. The explanation, according to the Defendants, is that, after the revelations in the Allied media concerning the gas chambers at the camp at Majdanek in late 1944, Himmler ordered the dismantling of the extermination installations in the crematoria atAuschwitz."
  10. "Gas Chambers Did Not Exist -- Historian," BBC online, January 26, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_619000/619619.stm. The BBC's report is a close paraphrase of Irving's remarks in Transcript, January 25, 2000. P-187.
  11. Charles D. Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust? A Study of the Holes in the Roof of Leichenkeller 1 of Krematorium 2 at Birkenau (Monongahela, Penn., 2000), pp. 24-31. Also on-line at: http://www.revisingrevisionism.com/
  12. Transcript, January 26, 2000. P-84. "Sonderkommando" (special detail) designated, among other units, the prisoner contingents which worked in the crematoria.
  13. Van Pelt expert report, "Chapter IV, Attestations 1945-46," p. 44.
  14. Ibid, p. 45.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Transcript, January 25, 2000. P-181, P-182.
  17. Pressac, Jean-Claude, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (New York: Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, 1989), p. 487.
  18. Transcript, January 26, 2000. P-6-16.
  19. PMO [Auschwitz State Museum] neg. no. 20995/494, Kamann series. Published in Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique, p. 340. See also Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust?, pp.17-18, and Ernst Gauss (Germar Rudolf), ed., Dissecting the Holocaust (Capshaw, Ala: Theses and Dissertation Press 2000, p. 346-347. As Rudolf suggests, the three objects on the roof may have been construction materials.
  20. PMO neg. 20995/506 Kamann series. In Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique, p. 335. See also Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust?, pp. 18-19. Also on-line at http://www.air-photo.com/
  21. "We know that the modifications, at least from the plan we saw there, the modifications of the design were decided -- I mean certainly for the hanging of the door in that new staircase was in December the building had been -- that the genocidal programme in Auschwitz had been adopted in August, the roof was probably being finished in December, so there was no reason to hack through the roof. They could immediately have made the holes in the roof as they were constructing it." (Irving-Lipstadt Trial transcript, Day 11, PP-127-128.) Van Pelt refers to the Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung drawing 2003 of December 19, 1942, Auschwitz State Museum, box BW (B) 30/2, file BW 30/12, in Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present (NY: Norton, 1996), plate 17. Van Pelt, Pressac, and Gerald Fleming have argued that the apparent elimination of the corpse chute indicates (only) live bodies walking into the basement rooms, a poor analysis, suggesting the victims of "natural death" could not have been brought into the underground morgues. Interestingly, the only material features noted for the entire basement section (Kellergeschoss) are the subject of the drawing itself, i.e.the basement entrance on the streetside (Verlegung des Kellerzuganges an die Strassenseite), and the elevator (Aufzug). There are many subsequent construction drawings from 1943 showing the inclusion of the corpse chute and other basement details. See Auschwitz 1270 to the Present: Critical notes by Carlo Mattogno (note 11) at: http://www.russgranata.com/irving-eng.html (internet).
  22. Transcript, January 26, P-17
  23. Transcript, January 28, P-109-113.
  24. Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust?, p. 18.
  25. Transcript, January 26, P-27.
  26. John C. Ball, Air Photo Evidence (Toronto: Samisdat, 1994). See also http://www.air-photo.com/
  27. Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust?, pp. 13, 14. Provan attributes the alteration of the photo evidence to a benign didacticism on the part of the CIA authors, one of whom was an expert of faked photography during his career with the agency.
  28. Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique, p. 436.
  29. Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust?, pp. 13, 30.
  30. Ibid., pp. 29-30.
  31. Ibid., p. 15. Provan's allegation contradicts Dwork and van Pelt, Auschwitz, p. 316: "Himmler ordered the expansion of Auschwitz-Birkenau to 200,000 inmates and instructed Eichmann to fill the camp with Jews capable of work." (Based on a plan of 15 August 1942, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, box BW (B) 2/1, file BW 2/10). Also, "Bischoff drew up a master plan for the transformation of Auschwitz-Birkenau into a 200,000 inmate labor pool for the armaments industry," ibid., p. 321.
  32. Robert Faurisson, "Genocide by Telepathy, Hilberg Explains," JHR 18, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1999).
  33. Brian Renk, "Additional Comments on the Provan booklet No Holes? No Holocaust? A Study of the Holes in the Roof of Leichenkeller I of Krematorium II at Birkenau" at: http://www.codoh.com/gcgv/gcgvholes2.html. For a brilliant analysis of Pressac's "criminal traces," see Robert Faurisson, "Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (part 1)," JHR 11, no. 1 (spring 1991), pp. 46-59.
  34. Renk, "Additional Comments,"
  35. Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust?, p. 10.
  36. Ibid., p. 10
  37. Ibid, p. 4. From Der Spiegel, no. 40, 1993, p. 162 ("Protokolle des Todes").
  38. Provan, No Holes? No Holocaust?, appended photographs. Also at http://www.revisingrevisionism.com/
  39. Ibid, p. 29.
  40. Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique, pp. 353.
  41. Judgement, 13.83.

About the author

Brian Renk was born in Canada in 1964. He studied at Selkirk College and the University of British Columbia (Vancouver) with a special interest in history and philosophy. He is currently a professional consultant in the masonry industry. In 1999, 2000 and 2001 he addressed David Irving's "Real History" conference in Cincinnati. At the 2001 meeting, he debated fellow researcher and author Charles Provan on the evidence for the alleged mass killings in gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943 and 1944. Renk's detailed dissection of the infamous "Franke-Gricksch 'Resettlement-Action Report'" appeared in the Fall 1991 Journal. He and his wife make their home in North Vancouver, British Columbia.


From The Journal of Historical Review, September/December 2001 (Vol. 20, No. 5/6), page 33.