Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Exaggerating the role of "new" Auschwitz blueprints

According to this news item ("Auschwitz blueprints go on display in Israel") Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev
said the publication of the blueprints would help combat Holocaust denial and make sure that the lessons of the Holocaust remain fresh.
These are the same blueprints recently found in Berlin, bought by Bild and presented to Netanyahu. Unfortunately, Mr. Shalev does not explain in what way these blueprints can help combat Holocaust denial. The blueprints contain no incriminating details and almost no new information. Numerous similar blueprints are in Moscow's Special Archive in RGVA and in the archive of the Auschwitz Museum, they have been known and studied for years. The only new information is the presence of Heinrich Himmler's initials which, if authentic, may confirm Rudolf Hoess' claim that he sent some plans to Reichsfuehrer-SS.

Yeah, some of the plans show crematoria and their infamous cellars. But so do numerous "old" plans, and even the majority of Holocaust deniers don't deny the existence of the crematoria in Auschwitz. So?

The ignorance about these plans is sometimes astounding. E.g. in the initial Bild publication Ralf Georg Reuth tried to present the normal delousing Gaskammer as proof of the existence of homicidal gas chambers in Auschwitz. This kind of thing only breeds deniers.

From the same article we learn that
The Chief Director of the Federal Archives in Berlin, Hans-Dieter Kreikamp, attaches to the discovery of the documents an "extraordinary importance". Kreikamp told BILD: "The plans are the authentic evidence of a systematically planned genocide of European Jews."
Once again, excuse me, but how is this evidence of the Holocaust? The cumulative evidence for homicidal gas chambers is found in numerous other documents from Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung and other sources, but not in these blueprints.

The ignorance and exaggerations from journalists are inexcusable, but at least utterly unsurprising. After all, from the article quoted in the beginning we also learn that "Some of the photos captured smoke billowing from the camp's six [! ~SR] crematoria".

But academic scholars should know better. And thankfully, Prof. van Pelt has been a voice of reason on the issue:
Prof. Robert Jan van Pelt, a internationally acknowledged expert on the planning and construction of Auschwitz, said that based on what he had seen on the Internet, there seemed to be nothing new about the documents.
[...]
Van Pelt, an architectural historian, said that copies of the plans of the stages of the camp's construction were also in the archive of the Polish National Museum at Auschwitz and in an archive in Moscow.
[...]
Van Pelt also said the words "gas chamber" on one of the drawings meant a room in which disinfection of clothing was done by means of gas, and that the sketch is not of an extermination camp established in 1942, but rather of earlier plans for a huge concentration camp in which a force of 130,000 slave laborers was intended to work.
And I cannot but applaud these words:
"Everyone is repeating the same nonsense, and the deniers are having great fun because it shows how people are gullible," he told JTA.
[...]
"If these were the initials of Himmler, that would be very interesting," van Pelt agreed. But "it is completely and utterly incomprehensible" that the director of the national archive would "open his mouth on something so sensitive without having consulted the literature." And when the Bild publishes this "without doing any homework, it puts us back 20 years. It's as if we didn't publish these documents already."

PS: Yad Vashem's description of the exhibition is here, with pictures. Yad Vashem commits at least one serious mistake - when they write that "[t]he drawings included in the [Vrba-Wetzler] report are surprisingly accurate." In fact, the drawing of a crematorium with a gas chamber in the report is quite inaccurate, though unsurprisingly so, "given the conditions under which information was obtained [...] and the situation in which the report was compiled".

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