Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 4: Sonderkommando Handwritings

Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz:

The Sonderkommando handwritings are among the most damning individual sources on the mass murder in Auschwitz for Revisionists. Here I look into Revisionist Carlo Mattogno's non- and mistreatment of the manuscripts.

Carlo Mattogno, Olocausto: Dilettanti allo Sbaraglio (1996)

This Italian book contains Mattogno's most lengthy comment on four of the Sonderkommando handwritings (though still woefully little for such a massive source).

Mattogno claims that the manuscripts "parade edifying tales of a puerile haggadah Holocaust". But the three supposed "tales" he mentions to support his assertion (namely, that Poles and Jews were singing in the gas chamber, a child was rebuking a Sonderkommando prisoner for assisting the Germans and a boy was first battered then shot by the SS) are entirely possible and conceivable under the extreme circumstances in Auschwitz and in the course of hundreds of extermination actions. 

He further claims that the manuscripts are "[n]ot lacking shameless lies". Let's examine these supposed lies.

According to Gradowski's manuscript dated 6 September 1944, "tens of thousands of Jews from Czechoslovakia currently perish before my eyes", whereas Mattogno notes that according to Danuta Czech's Kalendarium "the last transport from Czechoslovakia before September 6, 1944 had arrived October 7, 1943". Actually, the 1989 edition of the Kalendarium -  same as Mattogno says he used - lists a transport from Theresienstadt as late as 19 May 1944, more than 7 months after what Mattogno claims. This is still too early. But the fact that Mattogno did a sloppy mistake here helps to explain Gradowski's testimony in another way. 

Mattogno was wrong when the last Jewish Czech transports arrived in Auschwitz prior September 1944. Human beings make mistakes, obviously. Now, suppose there is also a mistake in the dating of Gradowski's handwriting, say it was not dated 6 September 1944, but 6 October 1944. Getting the month wrong is an easy to happen mistake, either by the translator/editors of the manuscript or by Gradowski himself. Here's a list of Czech transports to Auschwitz prior or on this 6 October 1944:

Date Number
28/9/44 2499
29/9/44 1500
01/10/44 1500
04/10/44 1500
06/10/44 1550

So if Gradowski's manuscript were written on 6 October 1944 instead of 6 September 1944 (again, an easy assumption that doesn't require much imagination), his description that "tens of thousands of Jews from Czechoslovakia currently perish before my eyes" suddenly begins to make some sense. About 8,500 Jews had been deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz at the time, the majority was probably killed right away ("tens of thousands" is of course an exaggeration, but one that is not particular serious at such order of magnitude). 

Dating the manuscript to 6 October 1944 also makes sense from another point of view. Gradowski wrote in the letter that "the date of the approaching. It may happen today or tomorrow. I am writing these words in a moment of the greatest danger and excitement" (my emphasis). The Sonderkommando revolt took place the very next day on 7 October 1944. 

Hence, from the context provided in the letter itself, it appears as most likely that it was actually written on 6 October 1944. Aside this, Gradowski's testimony was never a "shameless lie" to begin with. Even if the manuscript were actually dated 6 September 1944, it would have been more likely that Gradowski had confused transports from Theresienstadt with transports from Lodz (which were poured into Birkenau in August 1944) than that he "shamelessly lied" in a manuscript buried in the ground completely uncertain if it would ever be found.

Mattogno also complains that Lewenthal mentioned half a Million Hungarian Jews, who were killed in Auschwitz, which is "about 80,000 more than those who arrived at Auschwitz". Say what Mattogno, only 80,000? That's an overestimation of 20% and thus a pretty good estimate for somebody without exact figures (another about 100,000 were taken out for labour, but still Lewenthal's figure is reasonable well). 

Another point that questions more Mattogno's state of mind than the source is when he thinks that the walls of crematorium 4 could not have been dismantled on 14 October 1944, as mentioned by Lewenthal, because Mattogno says it "had been destroyed by the revolt of the Sonderkommando", as if a fire or even some homemade explosive could have pulverised the entire crematorium structure.

And finally, what should never miss in any Mattogno critique, attacking witness statements that are either hearsay (1000s were killed often at the hands of other prisoners in 1941-42) or inferred (there was another extermination site not far from Birkenau) and therefore irrelevant as far as the witnesses's own credibility is concerned. 

Carlo Mattogno, Olocausto: Dilettanti allo Sbaraglio II (undated, first seen end of 2002)

In this Italian article, Mattogno is attacking the Italian author/journalist Frediano Sessi. Mattogno claims on Sessi that the "bibliographic ignorance of our Auschwitz 'expert' is really amazing" and that it is a "shining example of the profound historical knowledge of our 'expert' of Auschwitz" because Sessi wrote in the Italian Newspaper Corriere della Sera in 2001 that a manuscript from Gradowski is published again after it was previously released only in few numbers in 1977 in Jerusalem. Mattogno lays out his bibliographic knowledge and informs us that, in contrary, the manuscript was published already in 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1996.

Unfortunetely for Mattogno, Sessi was right.

The manuscript he referred to (found in summer 1945) was indeed published for the first time by Chaim Wolnerman (misspelled Wollerman by Sessi) in 1977 in Jerusalem in Yiddish. It was only published again as French translation "Au coeur de l'enfer" in 2001. The bibliographical references provided by Mattogno refer, in fact, to an entirely different manuscript (the one found on 5 March 1945). Ironically, it is not Sessi but Mattogno himself who displays "bibliographic ignorance" and a lack of "profound historical knowledge", when he doesn't know that there exist two manuscripts from Gradowski (see also The Contemporary Sonderkommando Handwritings on Mass Extermination in Auschwitz-Birkenau).

Carlo Mattogno, Auschwitz: The Case For Sanity (2010)

Robert Jan Van Pelt cited both of Gradowski's manuscripts in his expert report for the Irving vs. Lipstadt trial:
"Dragon also remembered the location where his fellow Sonderkommando Salmen Gradowski had buried a journal, written in Yiddish, in an aluminium canteen. The canteen was dug up in the presence of the members of the Prosecutors office. It contained a 81-leave notebook and a letter, dated September 6,1944. Significant parts of the journal, which he had begun before his transport to Auschwitz, had become unintelligible. However the letter was preserved perfectly. For the record, here it is quoted in full.


The journal recovered in March did not contain descriptions of Gradowski's work as a Sonderkommando. In the Summer of 1945 a Pole found a second manuscript by Gradowski. He gave it to an Oswiecim native Chaim Walnerman, who took it with him to Israel, to publish it in the 1970s under the title In the Heart of Hell (I have been unable to trace a copy of this text within Canada). According to Nathan Cohen, the second manuscripts provides detailed descriptions of the murder of the inmates of the so-called family camp, and the incineration of their remains."

(The Van Pelt Report, Gradowski's first manuscript is cited in Van Pelt, The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial, p. 162.)

Note that Van Pelt knew already in 1999 about Gradowski's second manuscript -  because he actually read some other historian's book -, whereas Mattogno was still ignorant about it in 2002 (see above).

Despite the fact that Van Pelt was citing his handwritings as evidence, Gradowski is not even mentioned in Mattogno's Auschwitz: The Case for Sanity (ATCFS), which is supposed to be a rebuttal of Van Pelt.

Lewenthal is briefly mentioned in ATCFS in the context of a transfer of 200 Sonderkommando prisoners to Majdanek (Lublin) in February 1944. As usual, Mattogno offers no explanation of the source and limits himself to point out a supposed contradiction.

Mattogno claims that Lewenthal has the Sonderkommando transfer to "take place at the time of the alleged revolt of the 'Sonderkommando', hence early October 1944" (ATCFS, p. 415). However, this does not follow from the context provided in the published text.

On page 227 of  "Inmitten des grauenvollen Verbrechens", Lewenthal describes an episode taking place in Winter 1943/1944 (or 1942/1943 according to the editors, but which does not seem plausible). Three pages later, he mentions the transfer of 200 SK to Majdanek. He explains that after the killing of the 200 SK in Majdanek, a Russian Sonderkommando was transferred to Auschwitz. Since Majdanek was liberated in July 1944, the 200 Sonderkommando transfer to this camp seems to have taken place prior July 1944. This is consistent with Lewenthal's later description on pages 232 - 234 that there were considerations and preparations for a revolt among the Sonderkommando, but which were halted before "half a Million Hungarian Jews were burned" in Auschwitz, thus prior May - July 1944.

According to the context provided by Lewenthal, he did not place the 200 SK transfer to Lublin "at the time of the alleged revolt of the 'Sonderkommando', hence early October 1944", but prior May - July 1944. The actual date of the incident was late February 1944, as the corresponding labour force report shows, which is furthermore corroborated by Herman's manuscript that "...on 24 February 1944, [David Lahana] was sent with a transport of 200 people - all from the Sonderkommando - to Lublin, where they were killed some days later" (Inmitten des grauenvollen Verbrechens, p. 264, my translation).

There seems to be an anachronism when Lewenthal writes already on p. 228 on "preparations, to burn the Hungarian Jews", which is something that one can assume took place after the SK transfer and rather in April 1944. It also needs to be kept in mind that the sequence of the pages as published by the editors Jadwiga Bezwinska and Danuta Czech may not be beyond reasonable doubt since "the original sequence" of the manuscript pages was messed up during the conservation process.

Carlo Mattogno, Auschwitz: assistenza sanitaria, "selezione" e "Sonderbehandlung" dei detenuti immatricolati (2010)

Mattogno briefly comments on the extermination list attributed to Lewenthal (Mattogno links it to Lejb) in this Italian only work. He argues that the entries on the gassings of female Jews selected in the camp are "impostures" (Auschwitz: Assistenza Sanitaria..., p. 145) because they do not correspond to data supplied in the strength reports of the women's camp in Birkenau.

Actually, the figures of exterminated female Jews on 20 October (200) and 21 October (1000)  1944 correspond sufficiently well to the number of "specially treated" (abbreviated as SB for Sonderbehandlung) prisoners according to the strength reports of the women's camp Birkenau on these days, 194 and 515 respectively (scans of the reports were supplied to me by S. Romanov courtesy of J. Zimmerman).

For the other entries in the extermination list, there are indeed no figures of "specially treated" prisoners in the strength reports or these are orders of magnitude lower, so that they cannot be used to explain the extermination list anymore. Mattogno's argument assumes that if female Jewish prisoners were killed in Birkenau these days, they necessarily had to appear as loss in the strength reports of the women's camp. And this, in turn, assumes that all the female Jewish prisoners hold in Auschwitz-Birkenau were recorded in the books of the women's camp. But this assumption - for which he provides no evidence by the way - is challenged already by the strength reports themselves.

On 1 October 1944, there were 26,300 prisoners recorded in the books of the Birkenau women's camp formally compromising of the camp sections BIa-b, BII, b, g, c and BIII. The next day, the strength of the women's camp was increased by 17,200 "transit Jews" (Durchgangsjuden). These transit prisoners were previously taken out from incoming transports, such as from Hungary in May - July 1944 and from Lodz in August 1944, but they were not registered in the camp nor assigned to the women's camp. This directly refutes Mattogno's assumption for 1 October 1944: there were female Jews in Birkenau not assigned to the women's camp.

Now, the extermination list drawn up by the Sonderkommando prisoner covers the period 9 to 24 October 1944. But if Mattogno's assumption is invalid with regards to the period prior 2 October 1944 as demonstrated by the German documents, it may very well be also invalid for the period 9 to 24 October 1944. Indeed, the reservoir of transit Jews was not fully exploited with the formal assignment of the 17,200 female transit prisoners to the women's camp by 2 October 1944 (or fresh transit Jews were poured into the camp in the mean time), as indicated by their subsequent admissions to the women's camp throughout the entire month October 1944:

Date Number of
03/10/44 488 Durchgangsjuden
06/10/44 271 Durchgangsjuden
10/10/44 191 Durchgangsjuden
12/10/44 181 Durchgangsjuden
18/10/44 157 Durchgangsjuden
19/10/44 113 Durchgangsjuden
22/10/44 169 Durchgangsjuden
23/10/44 1765 Durchgangsjuden Überstellung
25/10/44 215 Durchgangsjuden Einlieferung

These admissions of transit Jews to the Birkenau women's camp suggest that there was a large reservoir of unregistered, unassigned female prisoners in Birkenau in the period covered by the SK extermination list, and it is from this reservoir of unregistered, unassigned female Jews, the SS could have selected the victims killed according to Lewenthal's list. Of course, the absolute figures provided in the list have to be taken very carefully, since it appears that the author assumed numbers of killed prisoners close to the maximum capacity of the facility in the absence of exact figures.

Carlo Mattogno, “Denying History”? – Denying Evidence!  (2005)

In their book Denying History, Michael Shermer & Alex Grobman made quite a use of the Sonderkommando handwritings from Gradowski, Lewenthal and Lejb:

"Indeed, we do have lots of eyewitness accounts, not only from the SS and Nazi doctors, but from the Sonderkommano who dragged the bodies from the gas chamber into the crematoria. Specifically, after the war six diaries and fragments of notes were found buried near the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoria. Three of them, Zalmen Gradowski, Zalman Leventhal, and Dayan Leyb Langfus, documented "the heart of the hell," providing "rich material for the historian." Gradowski is eloquent: "The dark is my fried, tears and screams are my songs, the fire of sacrifice is my light, the atmosphere of death is my perfume. Hell is my home." He goes on to describe the arrival of a transport, the undressing room, the gassing, and the cremation. With some rancor he describes the helplessness with which his fellow prisoners went to their deaths.Langfus speaks of the execution of 600 Jewish children and 3,000 Jewish women, as well as of Polish prisoners gassed between October 9 and 24, 1944, their bodies burned in Crematoria II, III and V."

(Shermer & Grobman, Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, p. 178 f.)

Yet, Mattogno's article, which is supposed to be a rebuttal of the book, does not even mention - let aside discuss and explain - any of the handwritings.

Carlo Mattogno, The Bunkers of Auschwitz (2004) and
Carlo Mattogno, Auschwitz: Open Air Incinerations (2005)

Both the extermination at the Bunkers and the open air incinerations are described in the manuscripts of Langfus and Lewenthal. Yet, Mattogno's book precisely on these issues does not even mention - let aside discuss and explain - any of these sources..

Jürgen Graf, Auschwitz. Tätergeständnisse und Augenzeugen des Holocaust (1994)

This book was written by Mattogno's collaborator Jürgen Graf and provides brief comments on four of the SK manuscripts. Mattogno never cites these comments as far as know, but even if he did it would not save him from the criticism that he failed to deal with the SK handwritings in any reasonable manner. Most of Graf's objection are merely arguments from personal incredulity fueled by his firm disbelief in the Holocaust (here it helps to know that Graf is a well known right wing extremist), ignorance and lack of understanding of the manuscripts, i.e. they say more about Graf himself than about the sources.

Conclusion and Summary

The individual significance of the Sonderkommando cannot be overemphasised. Unlike contemporary reports (e.g. from Auschwitz escapees or the camp resistance), which are largely hearsay on the operation of the extermination sites, the SK handwritings are first hand eyewitness accounts. Furthermore, the manuscripts predate any post-liberation eyewitness accounts e.g. from other Sonderkommandos. If one accepts that the strength of (testimonial) evidence scales with how close the source is to the event in question, the Sonderkommando manuscripts are among the most powerful pieces of individual evidence for mass extermination in Auschwitz. Despite their individual significance, it is interesting to note that the manuscripts are nevertheless comparable little relevant as evidence in order to make a solid case on homicidal gassing in Auschwitz, since reliable evidence for it is abundant anyway.

Their individual strength makes these sources, however, extremely inconvenient evidence for Revisionists. Mattogno's treatment of the SK manuscripts stands out by simply ignoring them in most of his works, even in those he responds to Anti-Revisionist critiques, who cite them (Van Pelt, Shermer & Grobman), or on complexes the manuscripts directly provide evidence on (Bunker and Open Air Incinerations).

In those few lines Mattogno has dedicated to some of the manuscripts (but up to this day not even to all of them), he ignored their special provenance (ATCFS, ASS) and provided an - even for him - extremely superficial critique based on the usual denier cocktail of insinuating inauthenticity, argument from personal incredulity, misinterpretation and systematic underestimation of reliability and credibility without providing any coherent and founded explanation of these sources (Olocausto: Dilettanti).


Jeff said...

Hey Hans, I've found some more examples of Deniers harping on the description of gas chambers in the singular at the first Belsen trial.

The first one was by the Daft Rodent of Nowhere.

I thought you might want to look into it but If you can't then that's fine.

I just didn't want to see it spread further that's all.

Dass Prussian said...

Hi Hans. Sorry if this is a bit late considering you published the article over a year ago, but the subject of the Sonderkommando Handwritings has cropped up on Rodoh and I was refreshing my memory by re-reading your article.

You have mentioned that one of Mattogno's objections was regarding the lack of Czech transports in September 1944. Is Mattogno suggesting that Gradowski was referring to the gassing of Czech Jews in September because his letter was dated September 6th ?

The reason I ask is that I have been reading the book 'Anatomony of the Auschwitz Death Camp' by Gutman and Berenbaum, in particular Chapters 18 and 24 - "The Family Camp" and "Diaries of the SK". In the latter chapter, the author, "Nathan Cohen" writes that the second chapter of Gradowskis second manuscript (found in the summer of 45) was entitled "The Czech Transport" and it detailed the liquidation of the family camp consisting of Czech Jews.

Apparently the first liquidation of the family camp was carried out in March 44 and after a second transport arrived in May 44 this was also liquidated in July 44.

Is Mattogno under the impression that the Czechs Gradowski was referring to were supposed to be "non-family camp Jews" ie transports direct from Czechoslavakia and the gassings occurred on 6th September ???? For it is suggested by the author that Gradowski was referring to "family camp" Jews gassed in March 44.

If Gradowski is referring to a gassing of family camp Czechs in March 44 then it removes the requirement for supplying an explanation regarding the mistakingly dated letter (6th October).

What I do not know however is if Gradosski stated the gassing of Czechs was carried out on 6th September, or is Mattogno getting confused with the letter and the notebook. How I read things is that the gassing was described in the notebook, not the letter, however I may be wrong here. Would you be kind enough to put me right lol ? Thanks.

Hans said...

Dass Prussian said:

"Is Mattogno under the impression that the Czechs Gradowski was referring to were supposed to be "non-family camp Jews" ie transports direct from Czechoslavakia and the gassings occurred on 6th September ???? For it is suggested by the author that Gradowski was referring to "family camp" Jews gassed in March 44."

Well, there are two different handwritings involved here, which may cause some confusion (Mattogno wasn't aware about this either, see the section Carlo Mattogno, Olocausto: Dilettanti allo Sbaraglio II of this posting).

The one cited by Cohen found in summer 1945 on the Czech family camp (which is reproduced in English here) and then the one under discussion found earlier in March 1945. The latter handwriting is dated 6 September 1944 and what's important in this context is that it does not describe the event in retrospective:

"tens of thousands of Jews from Czechoslovakia perish now before my eyes"

Obviously the killing of Czech Jews was taking place at the time he was writing, i.e. around 6 September 1944, but which I believe must be a typo for 6 October 1944, since both of Gradowski's remarks that Czech Jews are killed and that the mutiny...may happen today or tomorrow" fit very well to 6 October 1944.

I hope this helps!