Sunday, June 05, 2011

Thomas Kues tries to defuse the Benda report

In my blog Thomas Kues’ takes on the Sonderlager paper dragon, I had pointed out MGK’s partial omission in their Sobibór book of the contents of SS-Untersturmführer Benda’s report dated 17 March 1944, including a passage of the report that is also not mentioned in MGK’s earlier pamphlet Die Akte Sobibór.

This passage reads as follows:

Mit Rücksicht auf die Art die Sonderlagers und dessen Häftlinge, wurde veranlasst, dass die Wehrmacht sofort die Verfolgung der Flüchtigen und die Schutzpolizei die Sicherung des Lagers ausserhalb der Lagerumzäunung aufnahm.

In yesterday’s response to my previous blog, Kues provides the following translation, which I shall use in discussing his response:

In view of the nature of the special camp [Sonderlagers] and its prisoners, the Wehrmacht was ordered to organize an immediate posse after the fugitives, and the Police to secure the safety of the camp outside its fences.

Regarding this passage I had written the following:

What was the nature of the Sonderlager and its inmates, why wasn't either specified, and why was the nature of the Sonderlager and its inmates a reason to decide that "the Wehrmacht should take immediate responsibility for pursuing the fugitives"? The best explanation (i.e. the one that takes all known evidence into account and requires the fewest additional assumptions) is that it was considered most urgent that all fugitives be recovered lest they reveal that Sobibór had been an extermination camp, and that the Wehrmacht was charged with the task because it had more personnel available for this purpose than the SD and the Security Police, including units that were trained and experienced in hunting partisans and therefore most suited for the task. Now let’s see what mental gymnastics Mr. Kues comes up with as an alternative and what evidence (if any) he supports them with (it goes without saying the any explanation he might dream up has to ignore all documentary, eyewitness and physical evidence whereby Sobibór was an extermination camp).

Following the inevitable "Revisionist" pep-talk, and before trying to provide the requested alternative explanation, Kues goes into a little bitching exercise, which reads as follows:

In other words: The most reasonable explanation for why “the nature of the special camp and its prisoners” required the escaped inmates to be pursued with particular fervor was that they were able to inform the world about Sobibór the Extermination Camp. The problem with this explanation, similar to most arguments advanced by Muehlenkamp and his ilk, is that it ultimately falls back on the a priori assumption that Sobibór indeed functioned as a “pure extermination camp” – for which there is not a shred of hard evidence.

Why would an assumption supported by ample and conclusive evidence, including but not limited to that mentioned in the blog On 12.05.2011, Demjanjuk was sentenced to 5 years in prison. (transportation documents showing that Sobibór was a final destination for the deportees taken there and not a stopover on the way to anywhere else, testimonies describing the killing and body disposal process, mass graves whose size and contents, as researched by archaeologists, can only be explained by the need to bury tens of thousands of people) be an "a priori" assumption, as Kues calls it? Presumably the answer is that the mentioned evidence is not "hard" enough for his taste, despite having obviously been considered "hard" enough by historians and by the criminal justice authorities of the West German constitutional state. This takes us to some interesting questions, which I hope Mr. Kues will deign to answer:

1. What evidence of mass extermination at Sobibór would meet your requirements of "hard" evidence?

2. What similarly sized mass crimes that you accept as factual (e.g. crimes committed by the Soviets or the Western Allies during World War II) have been considered proven on the basis of what you would accept as "hard" evidence? Please make a list of, say, half a dozen such events, and point out the "hard" evidence that led historians and yourself to accept these crimes as proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

3. What accepted rules or standards of evidence that you can quote (as opposed to your own irrelevant wish list) are your requirements for "hard" evidence based on?

4. In what respect does the available evidence of mass extermination at Sobibór

a) Differ from the "hard" evidence that convinced you of the factuality of the events you will hopefully have listed in response to question 2, and
b) Fail to meet the rules and standards of evidence that you will hopefully have quoted in response to question 3?

5. If the evidence to mass extermination at Sobibór is not "hard" enough for your taste, why do you feel compelled to lie about it, like you did in the cases mentioned in the blog Thomas Kues on »Lies and obfuscations about Himmler’s Sobibor directive« ?

Kues continues:
The assertion that the escaped inmates were carriers of the secret of the “extermination camp” Sobibór in fact makes little sense even from an exterminationist viewpoint. Not a single inmate from the “death camp proper”, Lager III, participated in the mass escape on 14 October 1943. In Sobibór: Holocaust Propaganda and Reality I spent several passages discussing what the Jewish eyewitness have to say regarding their and other inmates’ knowledge of Lager III, which was separated from the rest of the camp by fences and a densely wooded area.

Any idea why Lager III was separated from the rest of the camp by fences and a densely wooded area, Mr. Kues? I mean, any idea compatible with "Revisionist" articles of faith. If Lager III was just the area where arriving deportees where bathed and deloused before being taken back to the trains, then why was this area segregated, and why – as you must also accept if you acknowledge this segregation and argue that inmates outside Lager III couldn’t say much about what was going on in there – were Lager III inmates kept from having contact with other inmates?

Anyway, the passages that Kues is referring to must be somewhere in chapter 4 of MGK’s Sobibór book, which starts on page 77 and is headed "Critical Analysis of Eyewitness Testimonies". In this chapter the authors try to demonstrate that the eyewitness accounts they mention (which are by no means all survivor accounts of the mass killing at Sobibór, see the thread Proof that “alleged Sobibór grave # 3/41” contains the rem. on the Skeptic forum and the deposition records linked to there) are wholly unreliable (e.g. because they contain inaccuracies like the description of opening gas chamber floors, which a historian or judge might consider understandable misconceptions by insufficiently informed witnesses to traumatic events) or do not prove mass extermination in Lager III because what the witnesses perceived of events in that area could have another explanation.

Besides being occasionally ridiculous, like the one that will be commented below, these arguments are quite irrelevant to the present discussion. For independently of inaccuracies regarding certain details (derived from inaccurate observation or hearsay), and regardless of whether or not the witnesses’ visual, auditory or olfactory perception of events in Lager III could by itself be considered proof of mass extermination, what becomes clear even from MGK’s denial stance is that all survivor witnesses from Lager III maintained and could substantiate the notion that Lager III was a place of mass extermination, and this alone meant that they could give considerable substance to accusations of mass extermination by Germany’s enemies and make the denial of such accusations increasingly difficult. One need only remember the impact on the Allies of the Vrba-Wetzler report (written by two escapees from Auschwitz-Birkenau who had not themselves witnessed the mass extermination they described, and whose account thereof, as we now know, contained significant inaccuracies and misconceptions) to realize what political backlash could have resulted from accounts of Sobibór escapees managing to reach Allied territory.

The Jewish work commando(s) employed in Lager III were likewise kept separated from the rest of the prisoner population and never entered the other Lagers.

Why again was that so, Mr. Kues? See above.

Thomas Blatt, who was sent to Sobibór in April 1943, writes in his memoirs that

“The most conclusive evidence that something murderous was taking place in Lager III was the fact that no-one ever came out alive, but such evidence was purely circumstantial. The Nazis made it difficult to collect any direct evidence of what was widely known throughout the camp.”[4]

So the mass extermination in Lager III was widely known throughout Sobibór, and that knowledge could be substantiated by most conclusive though purely circumstantial evidence (besides not-so-conclusive but also significant other evidence). Thanks for helping my point, Mr. Kues.

However, as I showed in the abovementioned study, based on maps an air photos, the inmates in the other parts of the camp could not have been certain that “no-one ever came out alive” .[5]

The mentioned part of "the abovementioned study" is worth a closer look. On pp. 97-98 of MGK’s Sobibór book, Kues argues as follows:

Finally we come to the “evidence” that “no-one ever came out alive.” The problem of this argument becomes evident by even a cursory glance at the various maps of Sobibór. The most “correct” map,239 drawn by Bill Rutherford in 2002 and partially based on air photos, shows that the northern, eastern, and western borders of the vaguely trapezoidal camp III area hardly could have been observed from other parts of the camp. This means that deloused deportees could have left camp III unnoticed by inmates in camp I and II. Interestingly, the Rutherford map shows a sort of passage leading from the northeast corner of camp III through the forest in the general direction of the main railroad.

So the fact that surviving inmates saw deportees including their relatives going into Camp III but never saw anyone coming back from there could in Kues’ opinion be explained by the assumption that the bathed and deloused deportees were not taken back to the railway station at the camp’s entrance at which they had arrived, where the trains that had brought them would be waiting to get back onto the main line and continue the journey, and where the inmates in that area (including but not limited to the platform workers presumably meant to help them onto the train and load their luggage or what part thereof had not been "confiscated") would necessarily see them. Instead they were made to leave Camp III through the backdoor and walk through the woods, after which they arrived somewhere on the main railroad, where they or their guards thumbed down the next passing train bound for the occupied Soviet territories (there were only four trains per day on the Chelm-Wlodawa line in each direction, as MGK point out in footnote 240 on page 98). Who needs railway stations and management of rolling stock capacities in cloud-cuKues-land? Kues’ argument also takes us back to the (already asked but not yet answered) question why the supposed transit camp was set up in the boondocks and not by a station on the main line leading to the occupied Soviet territories. One wonders if Mr. Kues doesn’t occasionally feel silly himself when proposing such utterly counterintuitive and nonsensical explanations. Or does he think he’s writing for readers who have switched off their brains?

According to another witness, Eda (Ada) Lichtman, “They [the Germans] always thought that we [= the Jewish inmates] did not know what was going on there [in Lager III].”[6]

According to the judgment at the Hagen Sobibór trial (see my partial translation),

The workers in the remaining part of the camp were forbidden on "death penalty" to approach the fence of Camp III beyond a certain distance, and none of them could signal knowledge of events in the death sector proper.

Whether the SS really believed that inmates outside Camp III didn’t know what was happening there is another matter. Evidence to the contrary is the following incident mentioned in the Hagen judgment (my translation, from the blog Judgment at the Hagen Sobibor Trial):

The witness Moshe Bac. credibly testified about the following: while he had worked at the Germans' mess in the outer camp SS-Scharführer Bredow had come up to him and asked him without cause if he knew what happened in Camp III. With his negative answer Bredow had not been satisfied. The guard had placed an empty conserve unto the witness’s head and tried to shoot it down with his pistol, while asking him if he really didn’t know anything.

As becomes apparent from the context of the court’s above-quoted finding, and as I pointed out in the aforementioned blog, Scharführer Bredow was not trying to obtain information from the witness at all. He was sadistically amusing himself by tormenting his victim in connection with a knowledge he obviously presumed that victim to have despite being supposed not to have it.

If these witness statements are correct, then how could the escaped prisoner have been viewed as carriers of the secret (Geheimnisträgern) of Sobibór the Extermination Camp?

A better question would be the following: even if the SS were so unrealistically optimistic as to expect inmates outside Camp III not to have realized what was happening in Camp III, would they also be so careless as not to take precautions against the contrary possibility after several hundred possible carriers of inconvenient knowledge had escaped?

If it was indeed true that no Jew “ever came out alive” from Lager III and that this fact constituted “the most conclusive evidence” the camp inmates had that this part of Sobibór served as a facility for mass murder, would not then all the Polish civilians in the vicinity of the camp, who were in a much better position to ascertain whether “no-one ever came out alive”, likewise have been considered Geheimnisträgern and dealt with accordingly?

Polish civilians in the camp’s vicinity (like those mentioned in note 19 of the blog Mattogno, Graf & Kues on Aktion Reinhard(t) Cremation (1), in note 191 of the blog Mattogno, Graf & Kues on Aktion Reinhard(t) Cremation (3) and in note 212 of the blog Mattogno, Graf & Kues on Aktion Reinhard(t) Cremation (4)) were certainly aware of the mass murder at Sobibór extermination camp. But they were not necessarily in danger of being "dealt with accordingly", for unlike the escapees they would hardly try to make it to the Soviets or the Western Allies and report what they had seen, moreover at they had presumably also profited from the sinister neighborhood of Sobibór extermination camp like the neighbors of Treblinka extermination camp had profited from the plunder associated to mass extermination at that place (see the article Gold Rush in Treblinka). Besides, Poles and Jews ranked on a different level of racist contempt in the Nazis’ eyes, as becomes apparent, for instance, from one of Dr. Erhard Wetzel’s comments to the Generalplan Ost (my translation, from the blog Belzec Mass Graves and Archaeology: My Response to Carlo Mattogno (5,2)):

It should be clear that one cannot solve the Polish question by liquidating the Poles like the Jews. Such a solution of the Polish question would incriminate the German people until a distant future and take away our sympathies everywhere, especially as all other neighboring peoples will have to count on being treated similarly when the time comes.

The Oneg Szabat group in Warsaw identified Sobibór as an extermination camp already in early July 1942, two months after it began operating, and already on 1 July 1942 the Polish Fortnightly Review published an article according to which Jews were sent to Sobibór and murdered there en masse with gas, machine-guns and bayonets. In a report from the the Polish Government in Exile dated 23 December 1942 Sobibór is identified together with Treblinka and Belzec as an extermination center. The Polish underground press mentioned the Sobibór “death camp” repeatedly in 1942 and 1943.[7]

Say what, Mr. Kues? Were there not also Polish resistance reports about mass extermination at Auschwitz-Birkenau? And yet it was only the Vrba-Wetzler report that caused the Allies to take some action – if only on a political level – about what was going on at that place. Underground reports are one thing, direct testimonies from people who were at the place are another. The latter seem to have a greater impact, even without first-hand knowledge of the grisliest details.

There can be no doubt that the Germans were aware of the contents of at least some of these propaganda writings, and the way they depicted the camp ­- but why would they then worry as late as in mid-October 1943 that the escaped prisoners would “reveal” Sobibór as an “extermination camp”?

For the reasons that gave the account of Auschwitz-Birkenau escapees a much bigger impact than that of previous resistance reports, I guess. And why can there be no doubt that the Germans were aware of underground reports about Sobibór extermination camp? Because Thomas Kues says so?

This gets even more curious when one considers that the atrocity stories produced by the early Sobibór eyewitnesses are ridiculous yarns about gassings with chlorine, mysterious black substances, magical bloodstains, electric machines releasing “deadly gas”, collapsible gas chamber floors, mass killings carried out with water hoses, etc. etc.[8] – i.e. certainly not any “detailed knowledge” regarding the supposed going-ons in Lager III.

Even assuming that the above is not just what a closer look at certain early testimonies mentioned in the Skeptic thread Proof that “alleged Sobibór grave # 3/41” contains the rem. suggests it to be (a collection of straw-men that says much about the mind of who parades it but little else), Kues’ reasoning is unsurprisingly bereft of logic. Are the Germans supposed to have known beforehand what oh-so-ridiculous "yarns" the witnesses derided in MGK’s book would tell their interlocutors, in 1944-1946 or later? Quite apart from the fact that such interlocutors would not necessarily be "Revisionist" wisecrackers unable or unwilling to sift the wheat from the chaff and attribute implausible details to misconceptions such as can be expected in accounts of traumatic events.

Now to what Mr. Kues’ considers the best explanation for Benda’s statement that the Wehrmacht was involved in the escapees pursuit given "the nature of the special camp and its prisoners":

Roberto Muehlenkamp has completely ignored the following simple explanation why there was a special urgency to the pursuit of the escaped Sobibór inmates: As already shown by me the dismantling plant for captured Soviet munitions mentioned in Himmler’s directive from 5 July 1943 (NO-482) was indeed installed in the “Lager IV” or “Nordlager” section of Sobibór and came to employ at least 110 inmates, many of them Soviet-Jewish POW:s, who, led by Alexander “Sasha” Pechersky, made up the core of the 14 October uprising. Documentary evidence further show that a significant amount of captured Soviet munitions was stored there and later, following the prisoner revolt, sent away from the camp.[9] It goes without saying that the detailed knowledge of the munition dismantling plant held by the escaped inmates would have been of potentially great value to partisan units operating in that part of eastern Poland as well as in the neighboring parts of Belarus and the Ukraine, especially considering that many of said partisans were using Soviet weapons. The knowledge of the escaped prisoners could thus have triggered a partisan attack on the camp with the purpose of stealing the munitions depot, or prompted the destruction of the railway tracks, as a means of shutting down the dismantling operation.[10] The fact that the addition of several trained and experienced Red Army soldiers to the local partisan groups hardly would have benefited the Germans also fits this picture.

Is that supposed to be an explanation that takes all known evidence into account and requires a minimum of additional assumptions unsupported by evidence? Hardly so, for it is essentially based on such assumptions, the only evidence supporting it being documents about the implementation of the ammunition dismantling plant at Sobibór, whereas all other evidence (including but not limited to that mentioned in the blog On 12.05.2011, Demjanjuk was sentenced to 5 years in prison.) is at odds with it.

Additionally it seems unlikely that, as Kues claims without providing any evidence, partisans in Eastern Poland, especially members of the Polish Home Army, would be largely equipped with Soviet hardware, and there must have been easier ways of obtaining ammunition than attacking a well fenced-in and guarded camp. Partisans would also not necessarily have had a particular interest in shutting down an ammunition-dismantling operation, as opposed to securing popular support, disturbing the Nazis’ exploitation of the occupied areas and damaging the related infrastructure (as was the Belarusian partisans’ approach during much of the occupation period according to German historian Christian Gerlach, see my translation from pp. 860 ff of Gerlach’s Kalkulierte Morde).

What is more, if concern about an ammunition-dismantling plant being revealed to the partisans was the reason for the urge to recover the fugitives, why wasn’t this clearly spelled out in Benda’s rather detailed report? Why the enigmatic reference to "the nature of the special camp and its prisoners", suggesting that both required discretion? A concern about escapees joining the partisans or revealing them a target is also not expressed in any of the other documents and testimonies related to the revolt’s aftermath that are mentioned by Jules Schelvis (Sobibór. A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Oxford International Publishers Ltd. 2007, pp. 173 ff.). One of these testimonies is the deposition in Munich on 21 October 1960 of Hans Wagner, commander of Sicherheitsbataillon 689 stationed at Chelm (Schelvis, pp. 177-78, emphases added):

My battalion was approached several times by the acting camp commandant [i.e. Frenzel] through my adjutant, Wiertz, at around 8 p.m., with the urgent request to send armed assistance. He was very agitated, saying that the Jewish prisoners had taken possession of the entire camp arsenal; that twelve of the 29 German SS officers and servicemen were on leave and that of the remaining 17 staff 12 had been killed by the Jews during the revolt. One after the other they had been lured into the workshops to try on clothes, and then slain. The German who was to be next had escaped, seriously wounded, and had raised the alarm. A few of the Ukrainian guard had colluded with the rebels. The vast majority of the Ukrainians had fought a desperate battle against them, however, led by the remaining Germans, but most of the rebelling prisoners had escaped into the forest.
He also said that he had called the Cholm police in the first instance, but they were engaged elsewhere, fighting the partisans, and therefore he had to contact the Wehrmacht instead. After I had called the Cholm police again myself. I established that all units were indeed engaged in a large-scale operation against the partisans that night, about 40 to 50 kilometers south-west of Cholm. I immediately got my adjutant, Wiertz, to decline the request for armed assistance. Under no circumstances did I want any involvement with either that camp or its facilities. In no uncertain terms I made my stance clear to all my officers, who had assembled in the meantime. However, towards the acting commandant I justified my refusal on the grounds that the battalion was already fully engaged down to the last man, that no men were available and that we could not afford to withdraw them from military operations. Besides, the assistance should be a matter for the police and the SS to deal with.

Wagner’s superior General Hilmar Moser concurred with Wagner’s position, but when checking with General Haenicke, the Wehrmachtbefehlshaber in the General Government, he was told that a general order did in fact exist for the Wehrmacht, the police and the Waffen-SS to assist each other in emergency situations. Following Haennecke’s rebuke, Moser ordered Wagner to take a squadron to Sobibór. Wagner thereupon ordered Hauptmann Wolf to prepare eighty troops for action, though he forbade them to enter the camp. Hampered by partisan operations against the railway, Wolf and his soldiers arrived at Sobibór only early next morning, and when there they did just about nothing, according to Wagner’s deposition (Schelvis, as above, emphasis added):

[…]As per my orders, Wolf’s contingent did not enter the camp and guarded the fence along the outside over a distance of a few 100 meters on either side of the camp entrance. Wolf’s unit did not take part in pursuing the fugitives in the forest either. They did not fire a single shot and arrived back the next day before noon with all their ammunition.

Why would the commander of a Wehrmacht security battalion refuse to give assistance to the SS in what a "very agitated" Frenzel had described to him as an emergency situation? Why did Wagner not want "any involvement with either that camp or its facilities" under any circumstances? What was it that he wanted to stay clear of? And why could he get away with what would have been a dereliction of duty if the fugitives had indeed significantly added to the partisan threat, first categorically refusing assistance under a false pretext and then ordering his men to go to Sobibór but just hang around there and not go after the fugitives? Obviously Wagner’s behavior, and his not being punished for it, were related to something about "the nature of the special camp and its prisoners" that Wagner and his superior were aware of, didn’t want any business with and could afford to refuse having any business with.

And what could that possibly have been, Mr. Kues?

To be sure, Frenzel’s agitation described by Wagner suggests that concern about the fugitives was not or not only related to what they might reveal about "the nature of the special camp and its prisoners", but at least also to their being considered particularly dangerous on account of being armed (though actually only a few of them were) and especially vengeful after what they had seen and experienced at Sobibór. While subsequent events showed that the fugitives were concerned with nothing other than staying alive (wherein only a minority of them succeeded), the fact that the obedient Jewish lambs in the Sobibór slaughterhouse had turned against their butchers seems to have been quite a shock also to the higher Nazi ranks and caused a great deal of alarm. The impact of this and other cases of Jewish resistance is described as follows by historian Frank Golczewski (Golczewski, "Polen", in: Wolfgang Benz et al, Dimensionen des Völkermords, pp. 411-497, specifically p. 478, my translation):

On 14 October 1943 the Jews in Sobibor managed to overwhelm the SS guards, to cut the wires and to make possible the escape of about 300 inmates. In the meantime the Polish resistance movement had consolidated, and while the taking in of Jews by Polish conservative underground units was only rarely possible, a number of these escapees should have saved their lives with the help of the partisans. The thinly settled Lublin area was regarded by the German leadership as so dangerous that the government of the General Government held a security meeting with the SS and SD on 19 October 1943, in which Frank uttered that the Jewish camps were an acute danger for the safety of the Germans. The consequence of this constatation was an action which the Germans gave the name Erntefest (harvest feast). Between 3 and 7 November 1943 most Jews in the Lublin camps were murdered in a great hurry: 10 000 in Trawniki, about 20 000 or 18 000 in Majdanek. There were also massacres in the camps at Poniatowa and Budzyn. The data on the final balance of this harvest feast range from 42,000 to 45,000.

Needless to say, this alternative explanation for the urge to recapture the fugitives doesn’t get Kues a banana, for the fugitives’ perceived dangerousness was related to the same circumstances that made them carriers of information highly detrimental to Germany’s image and political situation, i.e. to what Benda ominously referred to as "the nature of the special camp and its prisoners".

Kues ends his blog touting his hollow conjecture as the "better" explanation, as it «does not require belief in the factually unsupported claim that Sobibór functioned as a “pure extermination camp.”». As his explanation requires the wholly unsubstantiated a priori assumption that Sobibór was not what the convergence of all known evidence shows it to have been, he is hereby indulging in the very fallacy that he earlier accused me of.

Like in his earlier blog, Kues responded to the blog Thomas Kues’ takes on the Sonderlager paper dragon by focusing on one of my arguments (though an actual argument this time, not an argument he dishonestly put into my mouth like when he claimed that I considered the "Sonder" prefix to have a necessarily sinister meaning "in Nazi jargon") and simply ignoring the rest. And there’s a good chance that he’ll do the same when responding to the present blog, if he should do so. Does Kues really expect his audience not to notice this flagrant dodging?


Nathan said...

Christopher Browning pointed out that the labour camps at the Radom district produced one third of the munitions used by the Wehrmacht. Polish Partisans never laid a hand on them, except for an instance when a Polish official was assassinated. Now, Mr. Kues expects his readers to think that a processing station for Soviet Ammunition would've been a higher priority for them?

Jonathan Harrison said...

Kues also contradicts this motive by stating that the ammunition was moved to another location after the revolt. It's not as if the work was difficult to relocate: far easier than bringing in the Wehrmacht to preclude partisans gaining knowledge of the site.