In March of 1946 the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH arrested four men directly responsible for the ovens and gas chambers of Auschwitz. They were engineers Kurt Pruefer, Karl Schultze, Fritz Sander and Gustav Braun, employees of "Topf und Soehne", the German firm specializing in construction of crematoria. All of them were interrogated at length. Sander soon died, and the rest were sentenced in 1948 to 25 years of labor camps. Pruefer died in 1952, Schultze and Braun were amnestied in 1955 and deported to East Germany.
Protocols of their interrogations were gathering dust in the archives until the beginning of 1990s. In 1992 Russian prosecutor's office refused to rehabilitate Pruefer, Schultze and Braun, confirming their sentence. In 1993 and 1994 British historian Gerald Fleming published several short excerpts from the interrogations.
One particular passage from these excerpts caught Holocaust deniers' attention.
The leading "revisionist" Carlo Mattogno in his response to Prof. John Zimmerman wrote:
During the interrogation of 19 March, K.Pruefer declared:
"I spoke about the enormous strain on the overused furnaces. I told Chief Engineer Sander: I am worried whether the furnaces can stand the excessive usage. In my presence two cadavers were pushed into one muffle instead of one cadaver. The furnaces could not stand the strain." [my italics]
The attempt to simultaneously cremate two cadavers failed because "the furnaces could not stand the strain."
When the topic came up at The Cesspit, I e-mailed Mattogno and asked if he had the scanned images of the protocols. He answered that he couldn't deliver them to a third party, but he was kind enough to send a scanned excerpt from Pruefer's interrogation in question, which you can see below.
As far as I knew the Russian language, I understand that the passage you point out is ambiguous.
And also added:
However it is important to consider that both Pruefer and Sander stated that the crematory ovens in Birkenau could incinerate one corpse per muffle per hour.
Information from the second quoted sentence, while strange, does mean that the testimonies weren't simply concocted by the Soviets. After all, if the Soviets would coerce these engineers, the latter would testify about miracle crematoria destroying 1,500 to 3,000 corpses per day, as the Polish-Soviet act of Roman Dawidowski et al., and the official Soviet Nuremberg report had stated. It should be noted that this low estimate was contradicted by Pruefer himself, who testified about witnessing the succesful cremation of two bodies per muffle (more about it here, see part VIII for extensive quotes and analysis), and also by Pruefer's memo of September 8, 1942.
The first quote is crucial, since Mattogno admits that the passage is "ambiguous", and thus cannot be used as evidence for "revisionist" case. So, what does the passage really say?
I told Sander that I was present at a test run of the ovens in the crematorium in Auschwitz concentration camp; that I came to a conclusion that the crematoria [sic] do not cope with such an amount of corpses that were there for incineration, because the crematoria ovens were of low capacity.
With this I gave Sander an example - that in Auschwitz, in my presence, two-three corpses were being pushed into crematoria openings /muffles/ instead of one per opening, and even then the crematorium's ovens did not cope with that load, because there were too many corpses for incineration.
So what was actually said is that there were too many bodies in the camp for furnaces to effectively cope with (those were 6 muffles of the old crematorium - Birkenau crematoria with 46 muffles had not been built yet), not that several bodies couldn't have been burned at the same time. This is also confirmed by testimony of Sander, taken on March 13, 1946:
Pruefer then gave me an example that in his presence two-three corpses were being put into each muffle, and even then they did not cope with the load, because there were too many corpses for incineration in the concentration camp. (Emphasis mine - SR)
Thus, these passages do not support "revisionist" argument about impossibility of multiple cremations in Auschwitz. The corpses, according to the engineers, were being cremated in batches of two or three. As we have seen, Pruefer also testified that the ovens worked succesfully after burning two corpses per muffle. Neither Sander, nor Pruefer have mentioned any oven failures resulting specifically from multiple cremations. And, in fact, a document from "Topf" archive supports these testimonies. Fritz Sander wrote on September 14, 1942 (transl. by Roberto Muehlenkamp; emphasis mine):
The high demand of incineration ovens for concentration camps - which lately has shown especially in what concerns Auschwitz, and which according to Mr. Pruefer's report again led to an order of 7 three-muffle ovens - led me to examine the question whether the current oven system with muffle for the above-mentioned entities is the right thing. In my opinion things don't go fast enough in the muffle ovens to remove a huge number of corpses within a desirably short time. Thus one helps out with a multitude of ovens or muffles and by stuffing full the individual muffle with several corpses, without thereby solving the basic source [of the problem], i.e. the deficiencies of the muffle system.
(To overcome the difficulties of the muffle system Sander proposed a super-crematorium for mass cremation of corpses, which would far surpass Auschwitz ovens. Fortunately, his plan was never implemented.)
When I first received the excerpts from Mattogno, I thought that he had them at the time when he wrote a response to Zimmerman, in 2000, and accused him of being deceptive. I didn't know that his colleague Juergen Graf got the protocols only in February of 2002, so I was wrong.
However, it turns out that even after stating that the passage in question was ambiguous, Mattogno still peddles the same old argument! In Auschwitz Lies [large PDF] he simply reiterates the argument on p. 111, in order to show that Zimmerman used Fleming's translation dishonestly. In fact, Fleming's incorrect translation is simply vague and ambiguous, so it cannot be stated that Zimmerman's use of it was dishonest. On p. 112 Mattogno adds:
I later found out that Fleming's translation ("enormous strain," "the furnaces could not stand the strain") is wrong, too. Particularly the sentence "pjeci nje spravljalis' s toi nagruzkoi" does not mean "the furnaces could notstand the strain" but "did not cope with that load," that is to say, to the load of two to three corpses inserted into one muffle; "nagruzka" designates in fact the "load" of the oven. Pruefer therefore meant that the ovens did not succeed to cremate such a load in an economically advantageous manner if compared to a load of merely a single body per muffle. This does, of course, not alter the fact of Zimmerman's own manipulations.
Here Mattogno obviously refers to our brief exchange. What he doesn't mention is that he himself branded Pruefer's statement as "ambiguous" (although actually, it is not; but it is clearly useless for deniers). The "load" meant is emphatically not the load of 2 or 3 bodies in a muffle, but rather the "load" of all the corpses in the camp, as demonstrated above. It is flabbergasting that Mattogno could misinterpret the plain meaning of the text in such a manner.
Predictably, his buddy Germar Rudolf also uses faulty translation and misinterprets the text badly in the same book (pp.274, 275).
And these are two best "revisionists" out there!Update: It is really not surprising that lemmings at The Cesspit swallow Mattogno's and Rudolf's arguments, hook, line and sinker.