Monday, December 15, 2014

Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 3: Eyewitnesses

Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz:

Mattogno’s poor treatment of testimonial evidence is a common thread throughout his Auschwitz oeuvre. Whether on Henryk Tauber, Rudolf Höß, Charles Sigismund, Miklos Nyiszli, Filip Müller, Pery Broad, Hans Stark etc., Mattogno does not get tired to repeat the same mindless exercise over and over again: he points out what he thinks are contradictions and false statements in the testimonies and…well that’s it. This flimsy source criticism is already sufficient for him to dismiss any testimonial evidence on mass extermination once for all. Needless to say he does not discuss why this crude and superficial approach is supposed to be justified.

In practise, this scheme follows falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one, false in all). This (controversial) legal maxim assumes that it has been established that a witness has wilfully testified falsely. But it's hard to prove a lie, even more so retrospectively by studying written sources. Indeed, Mattogno does not manage to discriminate between dishonest and honest mistakes in his work. He cannot demonstrate a single lie in the most important accounts. Moreover, falsus in uno usually assumes uncorroborated testimonies, but which is not the case for the mass extermination in Auschwitz. In fact, the powerful concept of independent corroboration enables to extract historical truth with high certainty even from partially contradictionary and false sources. And last but not least, falsus in uno is not a scientific or historiographical principle, but a logical fallacy.

Why Eyewitnesses Are Relevant

Revisionists would like to write the history of Auschwitz almost exclusively based on contemporary German documents. The German files - even if there were perfectly credible, reliable and complete - would only provide limited snapshots of the events at Auschwitz, namely those information that were considered worth to be recorded by the SS, which was naturally only a fraction of what happened. Informal conversations between people would not have been captured at all. But more severely specifically for the question of mass extermination in Auschwitz is the fact that neither credibility nor reliability nor completeness can be presumed for the German files. 

Some portion of the documents are not credible. Elsewhere it was showed that the causes of death in the Auschwitz death books were systematically falsified by the Germans. A second problem arises from the tendency among the German paramilitary forces not to talk much about atrocities (this attitude is expressed for instance in Himmler's Posen speech, or specifically for Auschwitz in Pohl's speech of 23 September 1942: "special tasks, about which we do not have to speak words") and the heavy use of euphemisms and camouflage language in documents. One may draw here an analogy to Iraqi bureaucrats using "special attacks" and "special ammunition" when they wrote about chemical warfare against Kurds. Thirdly, the largest part of the German documentation was destroyed anyway, in particular the most relevant one (camp administration, camp commandant, the political department and medical department), while only the construction documents have survived largely intact. But even the files of the central construction office have significant gaps, including - and again most relevant - with regards to the crematoria. Hence, the German documents from the SS authorities may provide a fairly good picture of what constructions were carried out when and by whom, but they are rather lousy and insufficient to reconstruct what was going on inside the camp. Most seriously, they do not explain what happened to hundreds of thousands of Jews who were selected as unfit for work at the train ramp(s) in Auschwitz.

Here, at the latest, it is clear that further evidence is required to close the gaping holes left by the contemporary German documents. What kind of evidence would this be? Well, hundreds of thousands of people were deported to the Auschwitz complex, several thousand SS personnel served in the camps, thousands of civilians worked at its construction sites or lived as inhabitants in the surroundings. Many hundreds (thousands?) of people came forward after the war to testify about their experience in the Auschwitz complex. Therefore, testimonial evidence is an important and highly relevant type of source to reconstruct the history of Auschwitz.

Cross-checking And Corroboration

As intentional evidence and being based on reconstructions from human memory, testimonial evidence needs to be carefully examined for its credibility and reliability. Proper source criticism and historical reasoning are essential, else a heavily distorted picture of the historical reality may be obtained (e.g. no murder of Jews in Auschwitz when in fact hundreds of thousands were mass slaughtered).

To judge the reliability and credibility of a witness, it is not sufficient to point out some (supposedly) mistaken descriptions (as Mattogno limits himself to). There is not much gained from such an "analysis". A more telling benchmark is already obtained from the proportion of unreliable descriptions relative to the entire testimony. A single mistaken description may be severely damaging for a testimony only consisting of a single sentence anyway (in the extreme case), but it can be negligible for a testimony of many pages. The analysis is further improved if the amount of unreliable descriptions is compared to those that can be considered as reliable. The reliability of elements can be determined by cross-checking against other sources. Suppose a testimony A containing very few false, but many correct descriptions and one of unknown correctness. Such a testimony can be regarded as generally reliable and - without taking into account further evidence - the description of unknown correctness is more likely to be true than to be false.

Our confidence in the reliability of this description would be further greatly increased if it is independently corroborated by some other testimony(s). Suppose a testimony B, which confirms the remaining description of testimony A. We already know that this description is likely to be true (because testimony A is fairly reliable from cross-checking against other sources), but the probability is further enhanced by the fact that it is corroborated by testimony B. The enhancement scales with the reliability and credibility of testimony B, but the corroborative effect as such is always present. Furthermore, the enhancement scales drastically with the number of corroborating testimonies, which is particular worrying for Revisionists.

The concept of corroborative evidence is illustrated in this scheme specifically for testimonies and homicidal gassing in Auschwitz. The corroborative effect is increasing the probability of the hypothesis/premise/claim to be true above the highest value provided by the individual and isolated pieces of evidence. From another point of view, one may also view the corroboration effect as enhancement of the reliability of a specific testimony, as it is depicted here. Put simply, the boost in probability is obtained because agreement of multiple independent sources is unlikely happening by chance.

When Corroboration Would Fail

There are two lines of attack on a wall of multiple corroborating testimonies: 1. counter-evidence of comparable or higher reliability and 2. evidence showing that the corroboration is not independent.

There is no sufficiently reliable counter-evidence that would challenge the mass extermination in Auschwitz. Mattogno will insist that his interpretation of the German files is refuting the testimonies on mass extermination in Auschwitz, but even without going into detail for the moment, this already has to fail on the ground that there are severe problems with this type of source itself as already mentioned above (lack of credibility, reliability, completeness) plus that it depends on Mattogno's subjective interpretation. Such a deficient source can hardly gather enough momentum to knock down the solid case of numerous corroborating testimonies. Indeed, there is no documentary evidence refuting homicidal gassing/mass extermination in Auschwitz. This issue will be tackled in one of the next postings of this series.

Other pieces of deficient counter-evidence cited by Revisionists are
  • chemical argument on cyanide residues. This has even ceased to be powerful evidence according to its main advocate Germar Rudolf ("...chemistry is not the science which can prove or refute any allegations about the Holocaust »rigorously«...on the chemical argument no absolute certainty can be built", Germar Rudolf, Some considerations about the ›Gas Chambers‹ of Auschwitz and Birkenau, see also the more recent article cited here). It is noteworthy that this argument is not touched by Mattogno even with a barge pole.
  • combustion engineering argument on indoor cremation. As pointed out in the first posting of this series Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 1: Indoor Cremation Mattogno did not provide any proof that high throughput incineration was not possible in Auschwitz.
  • archaeological argument on gas introduction holes. In Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 2: Gas Introduction at the Crematoria it was shown that the holes in the roof of the gas chamber of crematorium 2 may have existed according to archaeological evidence (and certainly existed according to the convergence of the available evidence).
What all those pieces of counter-evidence (one may add to this list: flames from crematoria chimneys, collection of human fat from burning pyres in pits...) have in common is that they express the technical/scientific opinion of one or few heavily biased people (in case of Mattogno even lacking proper technical, scientific training). But isolated opinions are outweighed by multiple corroborating evidence. It is more likely that the layman (or even one single expert) does not know what he is talking about than that numerous corroborating evidence is false. And being ignored by experts is no proof against this, e.g. if I write a 1000 pages pamphlet claiming to have proven that crap can be turned into gold, that does not validate my claim if particle physicists put me on ignore or just laugh at me. There is no right for cranks to get some proper ass kicks. Any technical/scientific argument that is supposed to refute numerous independent, corroborating sources (= very high probability to be true) needs to be shown to have a very high probability itself, i.e. it has to be confirmed and corroborated by independent experts. Without peer review, Mattogno's technical/scientific arguments are nothing but paper tigers torn apart by the more reliable evidence available.

Multiple corroboration also fails if the testimonies are not independent but depend upon each other. If testimony B simply retells/copies a claim from testimony A nothing is gained from it as far as the probability of the claim is concerned. However, most of the accounts on homicidal gassing seem independent with sufficiently unique elements (some exception is Filip Müller's book Sonderbehandlung recycling the accounts of Miklos Nyiszli and Pery Broad; and Henryk Tauber used figures from Shlomo Dragon in his Soviet deposition). Furthermore, there is a complete lack of evidence to explain the flow of information between the testimonies provided in various countries and circumstances as well as the underlying conspiracy.

Mattogno Cannot Do Eyewitness Testimony

Mattogno systematically ignored and didn't take into account corroboration in his mostly stand-alone analysis of testimonies. Thus, he did not properly analyse the testimonies to draw any reasonable conclusion on their joint testimony and in turn on mass extermination in Auschwitz. In addition to the systematic underestimation of the reliability and credibility of eyewitness accounts because the corroborative effects were ignored, Mattogno further inflated the extent and impact of imperfections in the individual testimonies: he didn't take into account well known peculiarities of human memory.

Human memory is not perfect, but can produce deviations and misconceptions of what was actually observed upon its reconstruction even for a honest person (moreover, the observation may be distorted in the first place). In practise, this means that an eyewitness may give a false, but honest description of some detail. Accordingly, a false detail is not sufficient evidence for a dishonest testimony. The false detail is lowering the witnesses reliability but not necessarily his credibility (in some instances, even the loss of reliability is negligible). A significant damage in the reliability may be bad and a problem for a criminal proceeding when a witness has to identify a perpetrator. But if we are mostly interested in the big picture (e.g. were homicidal gassing carried out in Auschwitz) rather than precise details (e.g. how big was the gas chamber - for which we have more reliable evidence anyway, like the construction files) the decrease in reliability is bearable since a witness is more likely to be mistaken on a specific detail of a mass gassing than there was a mass gassing at all.

Along the same line, it is well known that certain elements of a testimony are more likely to fade away than others. Most interestingly, exactly those elements that are most frequently attacked by Revisionists in general, and by Mattogno specifically, namely the sequence of events, colors, magnitudes and quantities, sounds and duration are those whose "reliability of recollection is greatly decreased" according to a handbook for trial judges and attorney. It is therefore no surprise that among mass murder witnesses in Auschwitz there are variations in particular with regards to magnitudes, quantities, durations etc. But then these variations by no means indicate that the testimonies are not credible and can be simply dismissed as evidence, as Mattogno would like to have it.

To illustrate Mattogno's lack of common sense and proper understanding when it comes to Holocaust testimonies, he does not even consider something as simple as the fact that human memory tends to erode over time. The more we move away from 1941-1944, the more likely there will be an accumulation of honest mistakes in testimonial evidence. Yet, Mattogno is attacking (ATCFS, p. 488) a drawing made by Yehuda Bacon in 1945 (when his memory was fresh) by pointing to supposed weak descriptions by him 16 years later.

And just as he cannot handle corroborating testimonies, Mattogno has no clue either how to deal with partly contradicting testimonies, and pretends that nothing can be learnt from them:

"no document exists about these “incineration pits”, and thus everything depends on the witnesses who, however, have stories to tell that are most contradictory and thus without any value from a historiographic point of view.
The only sensible conclusion one can draw from this impenetrable jungle of contradictions is the total lack of historical and technical reliability of the testimonies which speak of the first homicidal gassing.
This story, like many others, is based exclusively on testimonies which are extremely short and mutually contradictory."
(Mattogno, Auschwitz: The Case For Sanity, p. 307 [on open air cremation at crematorium 5], p. 616 [on the first homicidal gassing], p. 617 [on gassing in crematorium 1], in this order)

Actually, dealing with contradictory sources is the bread and butter of historians. According to Howell’s text book “From Reliable Sources”, already the “[n]ineteen century historians developed systematic rules for making such comparisons [of sources]” (p. 70). Yet, even as late as 2010 some contradictory testimonies forced Mattogno to throw his hands up in surrender and declare the impossibility of extracting anything constructive from them. Dr. Joachim Neander has fittingly compared this immature behaviour Mattogno displays in his work on the Holocaust to...
"...a child that stands before a heap of puzzle parts, decides after a brief glance that nothing fits together, angrily throws the whole stuff out of the window and tells Mommy, who asks for the puzzle, that there had never been one."

This argument on Mattogno’s methodological shortcoming is much more powerful than going on specific claims related to individual witnesses (nevertheless for the sake of completeness I provide some critique of his treatment of the most important individual testimonies in a supplementary posting). It is instructive that Mattogno has carefully avoided dealing with this fundamental and concise critique, and merely stated that Dr. Neander's excellent rebuttal is “not even worth the trouble to examine, since its level is even lower [than his previous]”.


I've tried to figure out how Mattogno arrives to the conclusion that he can dismiss any piece of testimonial evidence on homicidal gassing in Auschwitz, which is the very opposite of what virtually any scholar maintains. He is doing it by simply turning upside down approved methods and reasoning to evaluate testimonial evidence. He ignores any corroboration between the testimonies, but at the same time exaggerates the significance of imperfections and contradictions. This is the opposite of how historiography, probabilistic reasoning, criminal procedures or just common sense suggest to extract the most likely narrative of events.

The more reasonable approach is to follow the path laid out by the corroborative joint testimony (because identical elements from independent, but false sources are unlikely), a path which is not necessarily blocked by the sheer existence of some false and contradictionary elements (because already human memory is likely to produce such).

As a consequence, virtually any of Mattogno's articles and books on Auschwitz (or on any other Holocaust killing site for that matter) is deeply methodologically flawed. The only exception may be his book The Central Construction Office of the Waffen-SS and Police Auschwitz, because it is not about mass extermination and testimonial evidence. Mattogno could have saved us "more than 10,000 pages" (Mattogno, Inside the Gas Chambers, p. 244) of drivel, if he had ever checked out an undergraduate text book on history.
"Testimony of one reliable eyewitness is good, but the best evidence is the independent testimony of several eyewitnesses. But caution is needed here. Two eyewitnesses who tell exactly the same story have probably checked their stories and agreed on a common version. Honest, independent testimony from several eyewitnesses will normally contain several variations, variations which tend to indicate that the testimony is sincere and independent."
(Jessup, A Guide to the Study and Use of Military History, p. 11)

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