Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Chapter 6: Death Camp Witnesses (4). Direct and Indirect Witnesses.

Direct and Indirect Witnesses

One of the typical distortions in the works of MGK is a conflation of direct and indirect (or hearsay) witness statements regarding the death camps. These criticisms of witnesses for hearsay statements seem to be highly regarded as effective by MGK due to the sheer number of them in their work.[49] This deceptive technique serves to provide false targets for their criticisms of witness statements from which to cast doubt on direct witnesses; attacking the rumour of an indirect witness only reflects upon the actual rumour, and not the credibility of the witness. These distortions are usually found in the disparagement of points that are not accepted by proper Holocaust historians (e.g. electrocution chambers, vacuum chambers, etc.[50]), and then artificially extended to cover the mechanisms attested to from direct witnesses (engine exhaust gas chambers). Readers should thus be offended by MGK’s slight of their intelligence, expecting the audience to be unable to distinguish between a hearsay testimony and a genuine eyewitness.

The issue of inner versus outer camp witnesses, and thus direct versus more indirect witnesses, also bears a brief discussion. For the Treblinka camp, there were a very small number of prisoners who worked in the extermination area and were able to successfully escape from the camp, largely due to the August 2, 1943 revolt.[51] For Belzec, only one prisoner who worked with the gas chambers returned alive from the camp[52], while for Sobibor there are literally no witnesses who survived from the inner (extermination) area. The reasons for the low number of witnesses should not be surprising, given the secretive and deadly work with which the prisoners were engaged. While those witnesses who worked in the outer areas of the camps (i.e. the reception area) cannot provide as conclusive statements about the fate of those Jews deported to the Reinhard camps as those who worked around the gas chambers and mass graves, the information they gained by their own experiences, as well as discussions with other prisoners, is still valuable when its limitations are recognized, such as an increased proneness to confusion about specific details about the exterminations (due to their indirect nature).
Kues attempts to point out these limitations, such as a lack of direct knowledge about the origin of the stench and smoke emanating from the extermination area (caused by the cremations of bodies), in an attempt to brand outer Sobibor camp witnesses as inconclusive about the fate of those Jews who disappeared into the extermination area.[53] Kues even argues that Jews marched into the extermination area could have left unnoticed by persons in other areas of the camp.[54] To reach this conclusion, Kues spins many of the observations that the outer camp witnesses observed (smoke, stench, screams, engine noise, hearsay discussions, etc.), largely focusing upon the limitations caused by the lack of the witnesses’ direct eyesight. All of these factors, in addition to the utter disappearance of all incoming Jews, led outer camp witnesses to interpret their location as a death camp. Indeed, Sobibor perpetrator Erich Lachmann even recognized as much while still assigned to the Trawniki camp:
Every Polish child knew at the time that these were extermination camps. It could not be concealed that transports of Jews were constantly going into the camps, and that no Jews were coming out of the camps. It became clear, thereafter, that the Jews were being killed there. We ourselves were able to watch the transports of the Jews, which were passing on the railroad tracks along the Trawniki camp. These transports may have gone to Belzec or Sobibor. We were all aware; I surmise that there was no German or Ukrainian at Trawniki who did not know what was going on with the Jews. It was obvious that Jewish transports kept arriving at the camp and that no Jews ever came back out. Clearly, they were being murdered there. We could see the transports going past the camp at Trawniki, [they] would be bound for either Belzec or Sobibor. We all knew what was going on…[55]
However, what makes Kues’ interpretation even more problematic is that rather than try to reinterpret the witnesses’ experience, he isolates the Sobibor camp and its outer camp witnesses from the other two Reinhard camps. As previously remarked, both the Treblinka and Belzec camps have had witnesses survive from their extermination areas, none of whom are brought into consideration in Kues’ argument. Thus, in spite of Kues’ weak attempt to portray the extermination area of the Sobibor camp as a black hole devoid of all possible information and knowledge, outer Sobibor camp witnesses have had their interpretations and judgments confirmed by the activities reported by more direct sources from the other two Reinhard camps, as well as SS-men and Trawniki guards at Sobibor itself..
A good example of the importance and possible usefulness of indirect witnesses can be seen in regards to the burial and cremations that took place in the three camps, from which the surrounding localities suffered through stench, smoke, and sometimes an overcast of firelight.[56] Belzec resident Maria Daniel, whom Mattogno derisively and ignorantly labels as “an insignificant witness who never put her feet into the camp,”[57] reported:
We could see a machine that took out the corpses from the graves and threw them into the fire. There were a few such fires going simultaneously. At that time a dreadful smell dominated the whole area, a smell of burned human bones and bodies. From the moment they began burning the corpses, from all directions of the camp came the smell of the corpses. When the Germans completed the burning of the corpses, they dismantled the camp.[58]
Janusz Peter, who lived in Tomaszow Lubelski some 9 km away from Belzec, wrote in his memoir that people on passenger trains arriving near the death camp often “had to vomit or pass out” due to the smell, while others had to leave the area because they constantly suffered “severe headaches, weight loss, loss of appetite, or anaemia.”[59] Another Pole from Tomaszow Lubelski stated that the townspeople kept rags soaked in cologne for when the stench became unbearable.[60] Josef L., a Pole from Rawa Ruska some 14 km away from Belzec, reported before the end of the war that fires were visible at night with the smell of burning flesh, while certain wind gusts would cause human hair to be blown to his town[61]; such a distance is supported by Belzec construction worker Stanislaw Kozak, who reported smelling the stench of burnt corpses up to 15 km away from the camp.[62]
Of course, Belzec was not the only camp whose cremations were noticed by locals, although it was the least secluded of the Reinhard camps. Around Sobibor there were similar observations. Pani Gerung stated that people in Chelm knew what was going in the camp, as “They could smell it-the air was rancid even though it was 20 miles away. And the sky lit up in the night with their terrible fires.”[63] In a contemporary 1943 report written by Slovakian Jewish deportees who were selected for labor at Sobibor and worked in nearby camps, one Jew who worked in ZAL Krychow reported that in the vicinity around Sobibor one could always see a fire at night, and that in the wider area there was a perceptible stench from the burning of hair.[64] Such a stench from Sobibor was not limited to the noses of nearby Jews and Poles. Hans Wagner, the commander of Sicherungsbatallion 689 in Chelm and who was later ordered to respond to the revolt in the Sobibor camp, stated after the war that his soldiers discussed amongst themselves and with him the smoke and stench that originated from the extermination camp.[65] The stench was so bad that SS-Scharführer Lachmann told of persons sent to Sobibor from the Trawniki camp who were forced to return with illness due to the smell of corpses;[66] when Lachmann actually was stationed at the camp and witnessed the mass graves being filled with corpses and a chlorine substance for himself, he stated that the smell was “excruciating.”[67]
Regarding Treblinka, the August 24, 1944 report by a Soviet investigative commission found that there were “statements of hundreds of inhabitants of villages” within a 10-15 km radius of the death camp who saw giant columns of black smoke from the camp, while inhabitants as close as 2 km to the camp (in the village of Vul’ka-Kronglik) stated that they actually heard the cries of people.[68] This information was contained in a report heavily quoted by Mattogno, but these lines were perhaps unsurprisingly omitted from his own publication.[69] There also exists another piece of indirect information which Mattogno has long ignored, the documented complaint from the Wehrmacht commander of Ostrow, located 20 km away from Treblinka, which states that “Jews in Treblinka were not adequately buried and as a result an unbearable smell of cadavers pollutes the air.”[70] Despite Mattogno’s feeble attempts to blame the stench on the few thousand of bodies buried at the Treblinka I labor camp[71], inmates at that same labor camp had no problem identifying the source of terrible smells from nearby death camp. Treblinka I prisoner Mieczyslaw Chodzko stated that “the spring winds brought with them the smell of burning bodies from the nearby extermination camp. We breathed in the stench of smouldering corpses…At night we gazed at skies red from the flames. Sometimes you could also see tongues of flames rising into the night.”[72] Another Treblinka I inmate, Israel Cymlich, wrote in 1943 that “smoke was billowing from the pits and the terrible smell of burning human bodies spread through the air.”[73] Obviously the smells that Cymlich and Chodzko experienced were from the cremation of the mass graves filled with hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Treblinka extermination camp, which the Wehrmacht command of Ostrow believed were “not adequately buried.”
Bystander witnesses have also given more recent evidence of witnessing shootings and smelling the cremations. Father Patrick Desbois interviewed the village priest of Belzec, aged 91, who described how, along with other villagers, he had watched executions from his roof. He also stated that his mother "couldn't bear the smoke" so had to shut herself up in the cellar. Another Desbois interviewee, a peasant, explained that the commander of Belzec camp requisitioned his wheat and barley sorting machine. When he went back to collect his machine, after the deportations had finished, he found that ten such machines were being used to sift Jews' ashes.[74] At least three Polish villagers testified to the investigators of Belzec in 1945 that they heard about the test gassing at Belzec from the Trawnikis.[75]
Hopefully it has been made apparent to the reader that bystander witnesses can possess great value as sources of evidence, especially when they are not the only, or even primary, form of evidence that is available on a subject.[76] One could hardly, in an honest way, describe the above evidence from the indirect sources as “insignificant.”[77] Perhaps the inability to refute such witnesses is why Kues has once suggested that local Poles who reported about their indirect experiences with the extermination camps after their liberation had been “threatened with imprisonment, deportation or even execution as a punishment for “collaboration with the enemy” if they did not affirm the general outline of the death camp allegations.”[78] While Kues is unable to offer the slightest shred of evidence to substantiate his conspiratorial argument, for the burial and cremation smell issue discussed above such an argument can easily be shown as faulty as it is obviously ignorant of the number of confirmations of Polish villagers produced by the Germans themselves in their statements and documents.
While they seem to ignore bystander and indirect accounts when it suits them, as Mattogno did in Treblinka[79], one of the points which MGK heavily deride in their works is only supported by indirect witnesses: the subject of the supposed collapsible floors in some of the Aktion Reinhard gas chambers. In Bełżec, Mattogno can only cite two statements by non-witnesses for such a floor at the Belzec camp, which he quotes without comment.[80] In Sobibór, MGK cite indict witness statements from Ya’akov Biskovitz, Alexander Pechersky, Zelda Metz, Ursula Stern, Chaim Engel, Ber Freiberg, and Moshe Bahir mentioning a collapsible floor at that camp.[81] No effort is made by MGK to locate these sources within the camp, perhaps due to the inconvenient fact that none of these witnesses worked in the extermination area (for instance, Zelda Metz worked to knit, launder, and iron clothes[82]). As MGK recognize, the only witness who claims to have seen the gas chambers, and who testified to the existence of a collapsible floor, is Biskovitz.[83] However, they do not seem to recognize the strenuous circumstances under which Biskovitz was able to see the installations (likely for only a few seconds), and thus is unable to have gotten a close look at the scene.[84] Moreover, in their quote of Biskovitz, MGK disingenuously leave out the witness’ admission that he did not see the floor underneath the gas chamber opened up (“I did not see that”).[85] Thus, more than just a distortion, they actually invert the meaning of Biskovitz’s testimony.
One of the indirect witnesses most cited and attacked by MGK is Alexander Pechersky, a former Soviet POW who was sent to Sobibor and who led the 1943 uprising in the camp.[86] Pechersky, as often quoted by MGK, reported that in the gas chambers of the camp “a heavy, blackish substance poured down in spiral shapes.”[87] Pechersky learned of this information, as he records in the same passage but which is often left out in the relevant quotes by MGK, from another inmate in the camp who had been there longer, but who also had not seen the inside of the gas chambers.[88] The relevant portion of Pechersky’s account states:
He was an old inmate who worked at sorting out the clothing of those who were killed. He was well-informed. From him we learned where our comrades had disappeared and how the whole thing operated.
[…]‘As soon as you were separated from them,’ he said, ‘they were taken to a second yard where everyone, without exception, must gather. There they are told to lay down their bundles and undress before going to the ‘bath.’ The women’s hair is cut off. Everything is done quietly and efficiently. Then the bareheaded women, wearing only their undergowns, and the children go first. About a hundred steps behind them go the men, completely naked. All are heavily guarded. There is the ‘bath’’ he pointed with his hand, ‘not far from where you see the smoke. Two buildings are standing there, one for the women and children, the other for men. I myself haven’t seen what it looks like inside, but people who know have described it. At first glance, everything looks as a bath should look – faucets for hot and cold water, basins to wash in… As soon as the people enter, the doors are clamped shut. A thick dark substance comes spiraling out from vents in the ceiling. Horrible shrieks are heard, but they don’t last long. They are soon transformed into gaspings of suffocation and convulsive seizures. Mothers, they say, cover their little ones with their bodies.[89]
Thus, the description of the gassings that Pechersky learned of was passed through multiple people before he learned of it, likely varying with every transmission. He was not an “eyewitness” to the exterminations, as Graf once deceitfully declared.[90] Indeed, only once and very briefly do MGK, in their references to Pechersky’s description, recognize that it is not his own statement (though still not recognizing that it was at least second-hand hearsay).[91]  Even so, the “heavy, blackish substance” that Pechersky discussed (and which likely grew heavier and darker in description as the rumour grew) can certainly be understood as a reference to the engine exhaust utilized at the camp.  
The early testimony of Samuel Rajzman, in which he described exterminations by vacuum chambers, chlorine, and ‘Cyclon-gas’ (presumably Zyklon-B), is cited as an example of the “hopeless confusion” of early survivor accounts.[92] In reality, and as Mattogno’s quote of Rajzman shows but which he fails to recognize, Rajzman was passing along hearsay testimony that was at least second or third hand.[93] Mattogno and Graf then go on to criticize Rajzman for adapting his information on the Treblinka exterminations as more reliable information came out and remaining vague in details on the gassings; this is irrelevant as Rajzman was not a direct witness to the exterminations. The “hopeless confusion” in this instance then is only from Mattogno and Graf.
Another example illustrating the difference between direct witness testimony and hearsay are the witness statements about vacuum chambers, which witnesses later changed into statements about gas chambers. Mattogno and Graf quote two witnesses[94] mentioning that people were killed by pumping the air out of chambers – the August 17, 1944 testimony of Abe Kon[95] and August 22, 1944 testimony of Kazimierz Skarzyński.[96] It turns out that Kon gave another statement on August 22 in which he described the method of murder as gassing ("They let the gas in. After 6-15 minutes - death"), while Skarzyński gave a further statement on August 23 wherein he mentioned gas chambers ("the Jews who were led to gas chambers").[97] No doubt MGK would use this to prove some sort of a conspiracy, with new information dictated to the witnesses. However, this example just shows that the relative value of indirect testimonies about technical details can be quite low - both Kon and Skarzyński obviously had known about the method only from rumours, and later, when they were summoned for interrogation, they apparently met other survivors who had a more direct knowledge. Thus they changed their statements accordingly. In fact, in the first official Soviet report about Treblinka composed on August 24, 1944, i.e. already after the statements had been taken, we still read only about the pumping out of air as the murder method, which fact shows that there was no conspiracy, only understandable confusion.[98]
That speculations about miscellaneous methods were floating around the camp is evident from survivors' testimonies themselves. For example, in 1944 Tanhum Grinberg gave a rather accurate description of the extermination process while clearly stating that he wasn't a direct witness and only tells this from the words of others. Among other things he stated:
In which way the people were asphyxiated I don't know, but Jewish man Goldberg said that when the engine was turned on, at first it pumped the air out from the chambers, and then the engine exhaust was pumped into the chambers. How all this happened is not known to me.[99]
By the way, it would be all too easy for the "pumping out" part to split away from the whole description (which in itself was partially a speculation).
MGK’s ignorance of human social interaction, as well as the problematic nature of secretive and indirect communication leads them to wonder why rumours were off base from the reality inside the extermination camps.[100] Such a weak argument is easily refuted by the childhood game ‘Chinese Whispers’. The witnesses were also prone to misunderstandings from their perceptions, problems from language differences, as well as pollination from outside or postwar sources; and when this information is passed from person it is liable for exaggeration, confusion, or other variances. It is also important to note that in their criticism of inmate knowledge of the exterminations, nowhere do MGK offer any positive argument to somehow explain the existing rumours in the camps; instead, it is all negative argumentation, almost entirely based on incredulity.


[49] There are many such examples, not all of which will be discussed here. For instance, the notion of a ‘soap factory’ at Belzec was criticized by Mattogno in Bełżec (pp.33-34), but without any direct witnesses being cited to support such a rumour.
[50] Thus, when in Bełżec Mattogno writes that, “The abandonment of methods of murder prevailing until then (steam at Treblinka, chlorine at Sobibor, electricity at Belzec) in favor of the new method of exhaust gas from a diesel engine does not relieve anyone of the responsibility of presenting new and decisive documents or evidence, or of new material findings, even if only out of opportunistic motives” (p.41), he is being extremely disingenuous, as no direct witnesses testified to the ‘abandoned’ murder methods. 
[51] These include Jankiel Wiernik, Chil Rajchman [Henryk Reichman], Szya Warszawski, Jerzy Rajgrodski, Eliyahu Rosenberg, Sonia Lewkowicz, Abraham Goldfarb, Chaim Steir, Pinchas Epstein, and Abraham Bomba.
[52] Rudolf Reder.
[53] MGK, Sobibór, pp.77-84, pp.93-98.
[54] Ibid., pp.97-98.
[55] Vernehmung Erich Lachmann, 3.3.1969, StA Hamburg  147 Js 43/69, Bd. 81, p.15461; cf. Schelvis, Sobibor, p.34-35, citing from the Anklagescrift (indictment) against Streibel quoting the same interrogation.
[56] For more information on the cremations in the camp see Chapter 8.
[57] Mattogno, Bełżec, p.85.
[58] Vernehmung Maria Daniel, 16.10.1945, BAL B162/208 AR-Z 252/59, Bd. 1, p.1154.
[59] Peter, W Belzcu, p.196, cited in Kuwalek, Belzec, p.351.
[60] Kuwalek, ‘Belzec,’ pp.355-6, citing Aussage Wladyslawa G., 17.12.1959, BArch Ludwigsburg B 162/208, Bd.3, S.404.
[61] Kuwalek, ‘Belzec,’ p.356, citing Aussage Josef L, 1.10.1945, BArch Ludwigsburg B 162/19 276.
[62] Stanislaw Kozak, BAL B 162/208 AR-Z 252/59, Bd.1, p.1227.
[63] Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness, p.116.
[64] Tatsachenbericht eines aus der Slowakei deportierten und zurückgekehrten Juden, 17.8.43, VHA Fond 140/59, p. 50; Schelvis, Sobibor, p.258.
[65] Vernehmungsniederschrift Hans Wagner, 21.10.1960, 208 AR-Z 251/59, Vol. III, p.562.
[66] Schelvis, Sobibor, pp.34-35, citing Anklageschrift (indictment, Streibel trial, ZStL-643/71-120/121.
[67] Verantworliche Vernehmung von Erich Gustav Willi Lachmann, 21.6.1961, 208 AR-Z 251/59, Vol. 4, p.680.
[68] Akt, 24.8.44, GARF 7021-115-9, p.109.
[69] M&G, Treblinka, pp.77-80. The relevant information fell between the paragraphs beginning with “The oven” and “The Germans” and p.79.
[70] KTB Wehrmachtbefhelshaber im GG OQu, 10.10.1942, NARA T-501/219/461; cf. Browning, Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution: Documentary Evidence concerning the Camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
[71] Mattogno, ‘Belzec or the Holocaust Controversy of Roberto Muehlenkamp.’ Mattogno states “Moreover, nothing excludes that the document in question referred to the abovementioned 6,800 corpses buried near Treblinka I, a possibility which renders Muehlenkamp’s comparison still more ridiculous.”
[72] Mieczyslaw Chodzko, ‘Wspomnienia Treblinkarza’, BZIH 27, 1958, p.93
[73] Cymlich and Strawczynski, Escaping Hell in Treblinka, p.38.
[74] Father Patrick Desbois, The Holocaust by Bullets, Houndmills, 2008, pp. 22, 154.
[75] Browning, Origins, p.543 n.163. Names and dates of testimonies given by bystanders to the Polish Commission in 1945 include Kazimierz Czerniak, 18 October 1945. Further testimonies relating to the construction of the camp and the gassing facilities can be found in the testimonies of: Edward Luczynski, 15.10. 1945; Michael Kusmierczak, 16.10.1945; Eustachy Ukrainski, 11.10.1945; Jan Busse, 23.5.1945; Marie Wlasink, 21.2.1945; Jan Glab, 16.10.1945; Edward Ferens, 20.3.1945; and Eugeniusz Goch, 14.10.1945; cf. O’Neil, Bełżec, chapter 8 n.19: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/belzec1/bel080.html.
[76] The primary sources of evidence for the burial and cremation of Jews in the Reinhard camps will be discussed in Chapters 7 and 8.
[77] Mattogno, Bełżec, p.85.
[78] Kues, ‘Belzec-The dubious claims of Michael Tregenza.’
[79] M&G, Treblinka, p.152. He did so by artificially limiting the possible source base to merely Polish resistance reports, which have already been discussed.
[80] Mattogno, Bełżec, p.20. He quotes a Rozalja Schelewna Schier, who was told by her husband who worked at the Bełżec railway station, and who thus had to hear about such a floor through rumour. Mattogno then quotes witness Jan G., who operated a railroad workship, and who witnessed the fashioning of 48 pairs of unique hinges, and concluded that they were to be used for a collapsible floor.
[81] MGK, Sobibór, pp.77-78.
[82] Zelda Kelberman geb. Metz, 15.5.1963, BAL 162/208 AR-Z 251/59, Bd. 10, 1929. This fact also discredits MGK’s criticism of Metz for her description of the use of chlorine in the gas chambers. See MGK, Sobibór, pp. 23-24, 71; Mattogno, Bełżec, p.10.
[83] MGK, Sobibór, pp.77-78.
[85] Ibid. Biskovitz came to his conclusion of a collapsible floor because he viewed bodies allegedly lying underneath the gas chambers “from a distance.” We believe it is more likely that, being too far to see underneath the gas chambers  and in a panic to leave the area, Biskovitz viewed corpses in proximity to the chambers, which he confused as underneath (probably as a result of rumours around the camp). MGK dishonestly give the impression that Biskovitz personally witnessed the floor in operation, which he clearly did not see. Kues (under the CODOH forum handle ‘Laurentz Dahl’) has also been made aware of these facts since 2007 by way of an exchange with Sergey Romanov his ‘More CODOH silliness,’ Holocaust Controversies, 11.6.07 http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2007/06/some-denier-who-for-some-reason-reminds.html. Kues has decided to toss these criticisms down the ‘memory hole’ and continue to perpetuate his fraudulent argument.
[86] Pechersky is discussed in Jürgen Graf, Holocaust or Hoax?, VHO, Chapter XII; MGK, Sobibór, pp.52, 69-70, 78, 89, 95; Mattogno, Bełżec, p.10. Graf’s treatment of Pechersky’s testimony has been discussed in S. Romanov, “He sure is”, Holocaust Controversies, 21.05.06, http://holocaustcontroversies.blogspot.com/2006/05/he-sure-is.html.
[87] Pechersky, ‘Sobibor Revolt.’ MGK trip up the hearsay statement by Pechersky, quoting it as a “black fluid” in Sobibór, 52.
[88] As Pechersky relates, the older inmate states “I myself have not seen what it looks like inside but people who know have described it.”
[89] Pechersky, ‘Sobibor Revolt’.
[90] Graf, Holocaust or Hoax?, Chapter XII.
[91] MGK, Sobibór, p.89: “If we follow Pechersky, we learn that, according to his informer…”
[92] M&G, Treblinka, p.67.
[93] M&G, Treblinka, p.68.
[94] M&G, Treblinka, pp.64, 65.
[95] Statement of Abe Kon, 17.8.1944, GARF 7021-115-11, p.16
[96] Statement of Kazimierz Skarzynski, 22.8.1944, GARF 7021-115-9, p.108.
[97] Published in F. D. Sverdlov (ed), Dokumenty obvinyayut. Kholokost: svidetel'stva Krasnoj Armii; Moscow, 1996, pp.106-7. Abe Kon's name is given as "R. Kon", but the testimony is evidently from the same person.
[98] Akt, 24.8.1944, GARF 7021-115-9, pp.103-110.
[99] Protokol doprosa, Tanhum Grinberg, 21.9.1944, GARF 7445-2-134, p. 69.
[100] MGK, Sobibór, pp.78, 83.

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