Saturday, December 24, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Introduction (3). Sources.


The achievements of historians, journalists and judicial investigators in reconstructing events at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka are all the greater because of the extensive destruction of documents by the Nazis, the dismantling of the camps and attempted erasure of the crimes, and the small number of survivors who escaped the camps and lived to testify. In the case of the Aktion Reinhard camps, the destruction of files is a documented fact, as we know from Odilo Globocnik’s final report on Aktion Reinhard to Heinrich Himmler.[101] The obliteration of records extends to many institutions who took part in Aktion Reinhard by organising deportations to the camps. Of more than 100 police battalions formed in the Second World War by Nazi Germany, there are extant war diaries for only a handful.
Nonetheless, historians and other investigators have been able to piece together the course of events from a wide variety of sources, and this critique has endeavoured to use as many as possible. Just as with the literature cited in what follows, the sources used in this critique were examined by several of the authors over a period of many years, largely while researching other, more conventional scholarly projects. By contrast, MGK’s knowledge and use of the potentially available sources leaves much to be desired, and as will be shown repeatedly in what follows, their ‘trilogy’ largely consists of a string of omissions.
Although Holocaust deniers have frequently sought to cast doubt on the integrity of the documents submitted to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg as well as the twelve successor trials, and many have tried to claim that key documents in these collections are forgeries[102], it is striking that MGK make extensive use of the Nuremberg documents in their work. We have likewise made use of Nuremberg documents, both from their published versions[103] and from unpublished copies held at the Imperial War Museum annex in Duxford, Cambridgeshire as well as the US National Archives in College Park, MD. Additional examples can also be found online on websites such as the Harvard Law School Library Nuremberg Trials project.[104]
Many documents submitted at the 13 Nuremberg trials were resubmitted in evidence at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, along with other documents identified and copied from a variety of archives by the Israeli prosecution, in all nearly 1,500 documents.[105] While a copy of the transcript has been available on the Nizkor website for many years[106], it is only recently that the Israeli Ministry of Justice scanned and uploaded copies of almost all of the documents to its website.[107] Hitherto, copies of the microfiched documents were the preserve of larger libraries or research archives such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Together with the Nuremberg documents, the Eichmann trial documents can be considered part of the basic knowledge that serious researchers of the Holocaust must master.[108] Since Mattogno makes use of the Eichmann trial as well as the Nuremberg documents, we presume that there need be no dispute that they are genuine, and will thus ignore one of the more familiar trolling routines used by deniers online.
As serious researchers know, the originals of the Nuremberg documents were for the most part reintegrated into the respective document collections, microfilmed by the US National Archives and Record Administration, and then restituted to the Federal Republic of Germany from the 1950s onwards, where they were archived in the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz, since moved to Berlin-Lichterfelde, the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg, and the Foreign Office archive (Politische Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes) in Berlin.[109] Both the Captured German Documents collection at NARA[110] as well as the restituted files in the German archives have provided several generations of historians with literally decades of research, yet curiously MGK have virtually ignored these collections, citing from just three files from the Bundesarchiv and Foreign Office archive, a number so low that the suspicion is created that they – or rather Mattogno, who it is that cites these files – simply plundered the references from a secondary source, or were mailed a photocopy by Udo Walendy some time back in the day, without ever having seen the document in its original file context.
Our research using the Bundesarchiv and NARA files was first conducted for scholarly projects mainly on the Holocaust in the Soviet Union as well as Nazi occupation policy in the Soviet Union, subjects which MGK purport to master when they advance their ‘resettlement thesis’. Yet from a very early stage of his research, one of the authors of this critique began collecting documents relating to the Holocaust in Poland ‘en passant’, often because the relevant files were adjacent, or documents could be found in the same files. More recently, files relevant to the Holocaust in Poland have been sought out over the course of multiple research trips to Berlin and Washington, DC,[111] along with the personnel files of SS officers from the Berlin Document Center collection. Originally administered by the US Army in Berlin, the collections have since been restituted to reunified Germany, after the entire collection was microfilmed for the US National Archives.[112] Other than quoting indirectly from a tiny handful of documents from these personnel files transcribed in published primary source collections, MGK have totally ignored the crucial BDC files.
We do not pretend to have exhausted all the research possibilities offered by the BDC, Bundesarchiv or NARA and believe that although the primary collections of captured Nazi documents are very well known to professional historians, new connections and links will continue to be made as these files are examined and re-examined. The same can also be said for the records of West German war crimes trials used in this critique. These trial sources can be divided into several categories. Of central significance for any study of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka are the pre-trial investigations opened up by the Zentrale Stelle at Ludwigsburg into the three camps directly.[113] From what we can discern, MGK have hitherto cited only from the investigation of Josef Oberhauser in connection with Belzec, and rely exclusively on citations from secondary sources for their knowledge of the investigations into Sobibor and Treblinka.[114] The following critique cites from all of these investigations, utilising an extensive collection of copies made available privately to one of the authors as well as from copies made available by Jules Schelvis, whose research files have been archived at the Nederlands Institut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, and which have been recently scanned and put online.[115] Schelvis’ research files contain not only copies from the Ludwigsburg investigations, but also from many of the trial proceedings archived in State Attorney’s offices and State archives across Germany.[116] We presume that since the publication of the English-language edition of Sobibór last summer, MGK may well have become aware of this online source collection, but we have the sad duty to inform them of more bad news, which is that SS men, Trawnikis and survivors of the Aktion Reinhard camps also gave evidence in the course of many other investigations and trials archived in Ludwigsburg or regionally, including the investigation and trial of Karl Streibel, commandant of Trawniki; of Ludwig Hahn, the Commander of Security Police (Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei, KdS) in Warsaw; and of many other key officers involved in Aktion Reinhard. Although one of the authors of the critique is currently researching these trials for serious scholarly purposes, we have not included even a fraction of the total potential evidence that is available from these cases, and have restricted ourselves to citing a few sources to refute MGK on specific points or to demonstrate the breadth and range of this material.
To the extent that Mattogno and Graf have made any kind of name for themselves in the negationist community, it is because of their research trips to East European archives, most especially the former ‘Special Archive’[117] and State Archive of the Russian Federation[118] in Moscow, searching out materials on Auschwitz, in particular the massive collection of files of the Auschwitz Central Construction Office (Zentralbauleitung, ZBL). It is quite apparent that whatever files they cite from Polish and Russian archives have been largely scraped together from brief moments on research trips for other purposes. Indeed, of the non-judicial files cited across the ‘trilogy’, 11 relate to Auschwitz while 7 relate to other concentration camps, leaving only 7 that ostensibly relate directly to Belzec or Treblinka along with 18 to the Galicia and Lublin districts and 4 to the Lodz ghetto. 11 more files from the Moscow archives are quoted in relation to the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, while one file purportedly cited from the National Archives of Belarus is seemingly plagiarised from secondary sources.[119]
Measured against the research efforts of serious historians, all these figures are risible. We see no reason why any rational person would prefer to take seriously the word of Mattogno on a subject like the Lodz ghetto when he has across all his writings cited from seemingly only 8 files[120], whereas there are several monographs on the same topic. Nor would any rational person think that Mattogno had grasped the context of the Holocaust in the Galicia or Lublin districts better than the numerous researchers who have systematically surveyed all the relevant files and woven them into a coherent narrative.
Our own research into the materials from East European archives have included research trips to some of the relevant archives as well as the exploitation of the remarkable collection of microfilmed and microfiched copies available at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The sources consulted include among other collections, files of the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission investigations into several of the Aktion Reinhard camps, as well as copies of Red Army investigative reports from the Russian military archive at Podolsk. Of particular significance and importance to the subject of this critique are materials from a variety of archives relating to the Trawniki men. These include contemporary personnel records and related German documents as well as the proceedings of several hundred postwar Soviet investigations and trials of Trawnikis serving at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka as well as other stations in the Lublin district. Among the most important collections are copies of trials from the archives of the Ukrainian SBU[121], which inherited the Soviet-era records after the collapse of communism in 1991 and which are now available on microfilm at USHMM. As with the records of West German war crimes investigations and trials, these sources are being examined in the course of conventional scholarly research conducted by one of the authors of this critique, and only a tiny fraction of the total volume of such evidence is included here.
It is striking that in all of their work, MGK consistently act as if the only source that can be considered a ‘document’ is a German report. Yet such an attitude is quite frankly the purest gibberish when measured against all known standard practices of historical scholarship ever since they were codified in the 19th Century. Rankeanism has only one rule, namely to prefer where possible a source that is closer to the events, either in terms of chronology or proximity. Medievalists, after all, are often forced to rely on sources from long after the fact, written down by commentators who were nowhere near the events they describe. Military historians do not have a problem in making use of the records of both sides in a war or conflict. Many historians of the Holocaust have since the 1940s made good use of non-German contemporary documents, most especially the written records of Jewish councils and the Polish underground. Such sources are indisputably documents, and we have made use of some of them in what follows. The majority come from published primary source collections, which now include extensive series of publications of materials from the archives of the Polish Delegatura as well as the Oneg Shabes or Ringelblum archive, but also now such things as translations of the records of the Bialystok Jewish Council. We have also made use of a number of files from the Public Record Office in Kew, London, including not only some wartime reports from occupied Poland, but also the important collection of the so-called Police Decodes, German signals traffic intercepted and decoded by Bletchley Park. A small number of unpublished sources from the Polish underground have also been utilised, along with a variety of contemporary printed sources.
In such a well-researched field as the history of the Holocaust, it is of course unsurprising that researchers can rely on several generations’ worth of published primary sources, including collections of documents, testimonies, letters and diaries. MGK, too, make use of such published sources, but the number of omissions is striking. Like serious historians, Mattogno for example makes extensive use of well-known published documentary collections such as the 1946 volume ‘Akcje i wysiedlenia’ or the 1960 collection Faschismus-Getto-Massenmord, published by the Central Jewish Historical Commission and its successor, the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland, respectively.[122] Strangely absent, however, are such important published sources as the Goebbels diaries or Himmler’s appointments diary for 1941/42, while absolutely vital sources such as the published minutes of conferences in Hans Frank’s Generalgouvernement administration are almost entirely omitted, especially for the crucial years of 1942-3.
The published memoirs of survivors of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka must also be considered primary sources, and both MGK as well as ourselves have unsurprisingly referred to them. However, we note with bemusement that their need to cite from memoirs is perhaps greater than ours, especially in their desperate attempt to scratch out any evidence for their resettlement thesis by quote-mining eyewitness accounts. Virtually all the memoirists left earlier accounts, whether in yizkor (memorial) books, postwar investigations or in trials, and thus we have regarded memoirs as simply another source alongside these.  Since Mattogno and Graf began writing on the Aktion Reinhard camps in 2002, a number of memoirs have been published, either from manuscripts written earlier or as the final accounts of the survivors offered in the twilight of their lives. This has generated the amusing spectacle of M&G’s younger colleague Thomas Kues frantically penning a series of ‘reviews’ of the newly appeared memoirs, always analysing them in virtually splendid isolation and often contrasting them against a strawman version of the history of the three camps.[123] Although several more recent memoirs are analysed in Sobibór [124], unfortunately there are still more than have appeared which have gone uncommented by MGK[125], an observation which can also be made about several recent works which republish obscure testimonies from Aktion Reinhard camp survivors[126] or which analyse similarly obscure testimonies from yizkor books.[127]
Our approach to the sources, as will be seen in the forthcoming chapters of this critique, is undoubtedly diametrically opposed to the method, if it can be called that, used by MGK in either gathering or analysing sources. The preceding review of sources has made little distinction between documents and eyewitness testimonies, because from a research perspective there is none; both are encountered in archival files, and any historian who still possesses a shred of their sanity is not going to ignore several thousand pages of material which might be found in a single postwar investigation. This does not mean, of course, that when weighing and evaluating sources, we ignore the differences between types of sources; it does mean, however, that we refuse to fetishise certain types of source over others.
In our experience, debates with Holocaust deniers invariably involve a combination of rhetorical strategies whereby a denier will find a nit to pick in a witness testimony, then be corrected, then suddenly demand a “document”, as if history could ever be made to vanish into a puff of smoke because a particular type of source was missing; and then when corrected again will bring out the argument of last resort, and start demanding “physical evidence.” The sorry spectacle thus inevitably ends with the denier moaning “mass graves, mass graves” over and over, as if they in the grip of a particularly tedious form of Tourette’s Syndrome.
Leaving aside the shocking ineffectiveness of such a rhetorical strategy – because of the immense ennui it causes when the denier goes into autorepeat – this negationist approach to evidence, namely to refuse to consider the sum total of evidence together, is not only nowhere to be found in any known methodology or philosophical consideration of evidence, but also expects the mark targeted for Revisionist rhetorical persuasion to forget all the evidence they  might ever have come across when reading about the subject. For many of us, it would be extraordinarily difficult to forget Stangl’s confessions or the filmed admissions of Suchomel, so naturally we take them into consideration even when the negationist insists on repeating, over and over, that there is “no document” which might “prove” gas chambers at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Well, duh. The files went up in smoke.
It is our contention in this critique that such a hyperpositivist demand is intellectually bogus, and reverses the normal chain of reasoning from the general to the particular. Indeed, one can quite easily invoke the much-vaunted Revisionist “hierarchy of evidence”[128] to demonstrate this point with a simple thought experiment: would the world regard Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka as Nazi extermination camps where hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered if there were no surviving witnesses? The answer is an unequivocal yes. We possess more than sufficient evidence from German documents to indicate that large numbers of Jews were deported to the camps, that the Nazis in the Generalgouvernement were exterminating the Jews, and essentially no evidence to suggest that large numbers of Jews came out of the camps. Add in the physical evidence of the condition of the sites after liberation, with their vast piles of ash and cremains, as well as the results of archaeology since then, and the conclusion any normal person would reach by common-sense inference is inescapable. By analogy with other documented Nazi killing sites, as well as the documented involvement of the mass murder experts from T4 in Aktion Reinhard, the rational observer would even be able to conclude – from the German documents alone – that gas was the most probable method. Such a conclusion would harden into a greater certainty when the evidence of contemporary documents from Polish and Jewish sources is taken into consideration.
Far from relying “exclusively on eyewitness testimonies”[129], the acceptance of mass murder at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka by everyone other than the tiny minority of negationists is very much grounded in the reasoning outlined above. That the eyewitnesses might disagree over the exact make and type of the engine is quite frankly irrelevant when set against the totality of the documentary and physical evidence. In the game of scissors, paper and stone deniers want to play, errors in witness evidence cannot be used to refute documents, but this is seemingly the reasoning they want us to follow.
Nor do we accept the piecemeal isolation of evidence that passes for MGK’s method of source criticism. In our experience, online denier trolls are largely incapable of discussing more than one piece of evidence at a time. MGK may object to this remark on the grounds that they are not Greg Gerdes, but on closer inspection their oeuvre largely disintegrates into a series of decontextualised misreadings of individual sources ripped out of their context by omitting or ignoring other pieces of evidence that confirm, corroborate or converge with the source in question. The ultimate test for any piece of historical evidence, in our opinion, is whether it can be used to construct a historical narrative or historical explanation. A simple litmus test for any claim about the past (whether 9/11, the Cold War, the Nazis, Holocaust or anything else doesn’t matter) is whether the claim can be presented in narrative form, telling a coherent story which utilises as much of the available evidence as possible. In this regard, MGK’s approach is a miserable failure, as none of their works are written in anything like conventional narrative form, and not infrequently violate simple chronological order in order to construct their attempt at a counternarrative. We do not doubt that MGK believe they are presenting a story of some kind, but we will cast more than severe doubt on their ability to justify their story in the chapters that follow this introduction.

[101] Globocnik an Himmler, 5.1.1944, 4024-PS, IMT XXXIV, p.71.
[102] Most notably, Carlos W. Porter, Made in Russia: The Holocaust, Uckfield: Historical Review Press, 1988; updated online version
[103] Namely, the ‘Blue’ Series of 42 volumes of the proceedings of the International Military Tribunal, or main Nuremberg Trial, with English language transcript and documents mostly in the original language, cited in this critique as IMT; the ‘Red Series’ of 11 volumes of Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, cited as NCA, offering English translations of documents submitted as well as unused at IMT; and the ‘Green’ Series of 15 volumes presenting excerpts from the 12 US National Military Tribunal ‘successor trials’, cited as NMT. Scanned PDF copies of all three series can be downloaded from the Library of Congress’ Military Legal Resources section at
[105] State of Israel, Ministry of Justice, The Trial of Adolf Eichmann. Record of Proceedings in the District Court of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 1993, 7 volumes.
[108] Nuremberg and Eichmann trial documents are cited by code number, thus for IMT documents  –PS, EC-, L0 R-, RF-, and USSR-; for NMT documents NO-, NG-, NI-, NOKW-; and for Eichmann trial documents T/- .
[109] For an overview of this prorcess, see Josef  Henke, ‘Das Schicksal deutscher zeitgeschichtlicher Quellen in Kriegs- und Nachkriegszeit. Beschlagnahme – Rückführung – Verbleib’, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 30. Jahrg., 4. H. (Oct., 1982), pp. 557-620.
[110] RG 242; cited as NARA T-collection/microfilm roll number/frame.
[111] Although original files at the Bundesarchiv were consulted, the USHMM holds microfiche copies of many Bundesarchiv collections, while the same documents are of course microfilmed in the NARA collections, and copied in the Nuremberg and Eichmann trial documents, with the result that some documents have been seen by the authors five or six times in different locations.
[112] Copies were consulted in NARA and are cited as NARA-BDC, SS-OA (Offiziersakte), name of officer.
[113] Now the Bundesarchiv Ludwigsburg, cited as BAL.
[114] Mattogno has also used a few stray citations from euthanasia investigations.
[115] NIOD 804, accessible by searching for ‘Sobibor’ at .
[116] Most often denoted as StA for Staastanwaltschaft or Staatsarchiv.
[117] Now RGVA.
[118] GARF.
[119] NARB 378-1-784. This file was quoted wrongly in the first edition of M&G, Treblinka, p.200. Soviet archives organised files according to fond (collection), opis (finding guide), and delo (file), which can be cited either as f.378, o.1, d.784, the standard mode of citation for Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian historians, or as 378-1-784, more commonly used by western historiasn. Like MGK we have used the latter mode of citation in this critique.
[120] Counting across Carlo Mattogno, Chelmno: A German Camp in History and Propaganda. Washington, D.C: Barnes Review, 2011; Carlo Mattogno, “Das Ghetto von Lodz in der Holocaust-Propaganda,” Vierteljahres für freie Geschichtsforschung, 7/1 (2003), pp.30-36.
[121] Cited as Archive of the SBU (ASBU) for the relevant oblast, eg ASBU Dnepropetrovsk.
[122] Józef Kermisz (ed), Dokumenty i Materiały do dziejów okupacji niemieckiej w Polce, Vol. II: "Akcje" i "Wysiedlenia", Warsaw-Lodz-Krakow 1946; Tatjana Berenstein et al (eds), Faschismus - Getto - Massenmord. Dokumentation über Ausrottung und Widerstand der Juden in Polen während des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Frankfurt am Main, 1961. Together, these two volumes provide 24 out of 140 references for Chapter 8 of M&G, Treblinka (two are improperly credited).
[123] Israel Cymlich and Oskar Strawczynski, Escaping Hell in Treblinka. New York: Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Survivors’ Memoirs Project, 2007; Chil Rajchman, Je suis le dernier Juif. Treblinka  (1942-1943). Paris, 2009; see Thomas Kues, ‘Chil Rajchman’s Treblinka Memoirs’, Inconvenient History 2/1.
[124] Eg Kalmen Wewryk, To Sobibor and Back: an Eyewitness Account. Włodawa, Muzeum Pojezierza Łęczyńsko Włodawkiego, 2008; Dov Ber Freiberg, To Survive Sobibor, Lynnbrook, NY: Gefen Books,  2007
[125] Philip and Joseph Bialowitz, Bunt w Sobiborze. Warsaw: Wydanictwo ‘Nasza Ksiegarnia’, 2008.
[126] Mark S. Smith, Treblinka Survivor. The Life and Death of Hershl Sperling. Stroud: The History Press, 2010.
[127] Yoram Lubling, Twice-dead. Moshe Y. Lubling, the Ethics of Memory, and the Treblinka Revolt. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.
[128] Germar Rudolf, Lectures on the Holocaust. Controversial Issues Cross Examined, Chicago: Theses and Dissertations Press, 2005, pp.190-2, also repeated in the 2nd edition (Washington, DC: The Barnes Review, 2010), pp.134-8; Jürgen Graf and Carlo Mattogno, Concentration Camp Majdanek: A Historical Technical Study, Chicago: Theses & Dissertations Press, 2003, p.239.
[129] This is a kind of incessant refrain in the ‘trilogy’: cf. Carlo Mattogno and Jürgen Graf, Treblinka: Extermination Camp or Transit Camp?, Chicago: Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004, pp.19, 34, 164, 299; Carlo Mattogno, Bełżec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archeological Research, and History, Chicago: Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004, pp.69, 94; MGK, Sobibór, pp. 22, 39, 76, 177, 289, 392.


Bluespaceoddity said...

Have just started reading. Like where this is going very much.

Typo alert:
"Nederlands Institut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie,.. .[115]."

Instituut with uu.

Sergey Romanov said...

Thanks, BSO!