Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Crazy World of Walter Sanning (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, we examined Sanning's distortion of sources concerning the Jewish population of pre-war Poland. This second part looks at Sanning's treatment of a Jewish wartime source that refers to Polish Jewish refugees who had been deported to the USSR.

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In his attempt to place Jews from western and central Poland beyond the reach of the Nazis, Sanning claimed that 750,000 Jews crossed the German-Soviet demarcation line between September 1939 and June 1941, and that Stalin subsequently had all of them deported to areas in the Soviet interior where most of them subsequently died from poor treatment. The following passage (p.43-44) explains how Sanning’s figure of 750,000 was derived:
The Universal [Universal Jewish Encyclopedia] reported that the Joint Distribution Committee - a large international Jewish refugee aid organization - initiated a relief program in early 1942 for 600,000 Polish-Jewish refugees in Asiatic Russia. However, if there were 600,000 of these Jewish refugees in Soviet Asia in early 1942, many more must have been shipped off to Siberia by the Soviets, because the journey brought death and hardship to many. In connection with the inhuman transport to the east, the Joint Distribution Committee wrote in its Bulletin of June 1943: "From a fifth to a third of the number of refugees died ... whoever did not see the thousands of graves, mostly of children, cannot understand". This means that the number of Jewish refugees from western Poland who were arrested by the Soviets and deported to Siberia ranged from 750,000 to 900,000! But only 600,000 survived the incredible journey and arrived at their destination. [...] For lack of further proof, we will accept the lower figure of 750,000 Jews as having fled from western Poland to the Soviet-occupied former Polish territory.
A serious flaw of methodology can be found in this passage. Why is Sanning relying on a secondary source (The Universal) for a reference to a primary source (the JDC) whose archives are readily accessible? To investigate this question, we contacted the JDC Archive section, which kindly sent us scans of the relevant monthly JDC Digests and annual Reports for 1942 and 1943. The first reference to a figure of 600,000 in these scans is contained in JDC Digest, Vol 1, No. 4, October 1942:
…the JDC is buying complete equipment to outfit six 100-bed base hospitals to care for the many sick among the estimated 2,000,000 Polish refugees in Siberia, of whom 600,000 are said to be Jews
This is probably the Universal’s source, yet it is apparent from this passage that the 600,000 figure is hearsay: “600,000 are said to be Jews.” Sanning avoids the direct source because he would be embarassed by its hearsay nature. More importantly, Sanning would have been obliged to mention that a later JDC Digest, from April 1943, contained a report entitled 'Field Trip To Teheran by Harry Viteles', which admitted that there were huge variations in available estimates:
Estimates varied on the number of Polish Jews in the Asiatic Russian Republics. Some claims were as high as 600,000, others indicated that there were less than 100,000...
Furthermore, Sanning does not ask an obvious critical question about the source of the JDC’s supposed information: did the JDC have people on the ground in Russia distributing the aid? The answer can be found in the November 1942 Digest, p.4:
The Polish Government [In Exile] has arranged for this material to enter duty-free and to be shipped to its embassy in Kuibyshev, from which point it is distributed to its 300 district offices.
Moreover, it was a condition of this program that the aid had to be distributed on a “non-sectarian basis”. This stricture did not just apply to the JDC, but to all charities. It does not therefore require much imagination to work out why the Polish Government In Exile officials might have fed the JDC false information about the numbers of Polish Jews in the Soviet Union. The JDC may have thought its parcels were going to Jews but these officials may have been siphoning them off to their own kith & kin. This suspicion is supported by a study of another charity, the "Vaad", that provided aid to Polish Jewish scholars exiled in Russia in 1942, and went through the same bureaucracy as the JDC, discussed here. Note the following key passage:
This project faced formidable technical obstacles since it was often difficult to locate the individuals whom the Vaad sought to aid and, moreover, the Soviet government's regulations hampered relief work. The most important directive stipulated that all mass aid to Polish citizens in the Soviet Union had to be channeled through agencies of the Polish government-in-exile. While assistance could be directed to specific individuals, there could be no special aid programs for Jews qua Jews. Thus aid sent to Russia had to be distributed among the Polish refugees-Jews and non-Jews-by Polish officials. This measure put Jewish refugees at the mercy of the Polish officials, many of whom were antisemitic.
Sanning’s failure to quote the JDC sources directly must thus lead to a suspicion that he has concealed the primary sources in order to avoid revealing that the JDC had no officials in the Soviet Union and was relying on hearsay, which led it to quote a wide range of estimates from “below 100,000” to “600,000”. Sanning’s quotation of the highest estimate, whilst omitting the lower one in the Viteles report, is either crassly negligent or simply fraudulent.

The suspicion of fraud rather than simple neglect is strengthened by the fact that Sanning similarly distorted the JDC's figures for western Poland. In order to “show” that 750,000 Jews crossed the demarcation line, Sanning tries to demonstrate that only 630,000 Jews were left in western Poland in June 1941. In order to do this, he resorts to a quotation out of context from the aforementioned Universal Jewish Encyclopedia suggesting that the JDC treated 630,000 Jews in the German zone. As Zimmerman demonstrates, Sanning’s quote is taken out of context from this passage:
In the German occupied area about 1,725,000 Jews were subjected to the full force of German fury. Some 250,000 lost their lives during the 12 months after the outbreak of the war. At least an equal number were uprooted from their homes. They, together with the remaining Jews of Poland, were herded into ghettos, beaten, driven from their homes, dragged into forced labor gangs and reduced to beggary. Once again starvation and disease took their toll. The death rate in the Warsaw ghetto, containing over 500,000 people in a 100 square block area, rose to 15 times its pre-war size.

Throughout this tragic period the network of institutions which the J.D.C. had built up in Poland since the first World War stood it in good stead. . . J.D.C. help was reaching 630,000 people daily in over 400 localities throughout the German occupied area..
Sanning therefore takes his 630,000 figure from a source that explicitly states that 1,725,000 Jews were ghettoized and forced into labour gangs, of which 500,000 were in the Warsaw ghetto alone. Once again, therefore, we find Sanning flagrantly abusing his source.

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