Friday, April 03, 2015

Reply to Friedrich Jansson on Auschwitz Sonderkommando Doctor Charles Sigismund Bendel

The Revisionist blogger Friedrich Jansson has recently (last month) published a critique C.S. Bendel and ceiling height (reply to an argument advanced by ‘Hans’) commenting on some points I made in the blog articles Review of the Debate on the Gas Openings at Crematoria 2 and 3 in Auschwitz - Part II: Revisionist arguments and Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 3: Eyewitnesses (Supplement).

I appreciate if somebody with opposing views publishes a critique. That's an excellent opportunity to check, correct, refine, clarify and ultimately to improve ones argument. I will show that Jansson's critique is either of minor significance for my argument, irrelevant or utterly unfounded. Furthermore, Jansson has ignored the essence of my analysis of the testimony of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando doctor Charles Sigismund Bendel.


Jansson spends quite some effort on figuring out the gas chamber's height, which Bendel testified at the Tesch trial on 2 March 1946. He concludes that the 5’8” (about 1.7 m) given in the transcript of his cross examination is a translation error (either unintentionally or intentionally) and that "Bendel did in fact give the ceiling height as 1.6 meters during the Tesch trial" (the actual height of the gas chamber was some 2.41 m). It's quite possible and in fact likely that Bendel's metric figure was falsely converted into imperial units in the court transcript, but I note that this is not as "absolutely clear" and "certain" as Jansson has put it (namely, he plugs in quite some assumptions on the prosecutor Draper and the defendant lawyer Zippel in his analysis such as that they have would have cared very much about the exact gas chamber height and that they would never commit mistakes or slopiness in courtroom). It is interesting to see how little evidence Jansson needs to establish something with "certainty" - when it's not something to support atrocities committed by the Germans. It's further worth pointing out that "having read enough trial material to know Draper’s courtroom manner" is not exactly a convincing argument for any critically minded reader.

Anyway, it's likely that Bendel's about 1.7 m were a mistranslation for 1.6 m. That's good know, but also little relevant as far as my own argument is concerned. In Review of the Debate on the Gas Openings at Crematoria 2 and 3 in Auschwitz - Part II: Revisionist arguments, I pointed out that these 5’8” (which I presented a bit inaccurately as "1.70 m") were "conveniently omitted" by Mattogno, who only cited the 1.6 m in an argument against Bendel. Since Mattogno did not bring forward Jansson explanation of mistranslation, he still conveniently omitted that according to the transcript Bendel gave a higher gas chamber's height upon his direct examination.

Of course, Jansson's interpretation is relevant for my own explanation in this article that it "could be that the gas chamber was filled with corpses at the time he witnessed it giving him the impression of a very low ceiling", as this explanation is way less likely for a gas chamber height of 1.6 m instead of about 1.7 m. But already in Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 3: Eyewitnesses (Supplement) (which is an updated and more detailed treatment of Bendel's testimony) I conceded, discussed and explained Bendel's even lower figure of 1.5 m for the gas chamber height (mentioned by him in affidavit of 21 October 1945 cited by Mattogno). Jansson's interpretation does therefore neither help Mattogno (who was still using Bendel's examination selectively) nor challenge my latest treatment of Bendel's testimony (which discusses an even lower height).

On my blog article Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 3: Eyewitnesses (Supplement), Jansson is right that I mistakenly wrote that Bendel was asked by the "chief prosecutor Backhouse if the victims were 'brought down [into the gas chamber] by one of the doctors'", while it was actually the defendant lawyer Cranfield who posed this question at the Belsen trial.
"It’s unclear whether Hans thought he could get away with lying about this, or whether he simply failed to read the transcript properly."
(Friedrich Jansson,  C.S. Bendel and ceiling height (reply to an argument advanced by ‘Hans’)

Oh yeah, I thought I could get away with lying about something that anybody can easily figure out from the link and searching for the text I provided myself. Makes sense. 

I cannot reconstruct anymore for sure why I did the mistake. I might have assumed that Cranfield was from the prosecution at my first reading of the examination and drafting of the blog posting, and inserted the person Backhouse only in the second draft falsely remembering it was him who questioned Bendel (and not checking the point again against the transcript). Or I was indeed just sloppy in my reading of this part of the transcript and missed what is quite obvious.

But let's see how serious the mistake is for my argument in the blog. Jansson says it's "a critical error". But my claim that Bendel "proved to be resistent towards manipulation and suggestive questions from the prosecution at the Belsen trial" was only supplementary anyway to my primary point that Bendel provided a reliable and credible testimony at the Belsen trial. Therefore, this mistake - even if it were completely invalidating the point I was making - would have only a limited impact on the entire argument. It's not a critical error.

Furthermore, it does not even invalidate my point. Bendel was working at the extermination sites and accordingly, he was in the best position to directly incriminate the high ranking defendants from Auschwitz (Klein, Hössler and Kramer) on mass extermination of innocent people (mostly women, children and elderly). Yet, he only testified that Klein was sitting in the car transporting the gas, that Kramer was present when escaped or revolting Sonderkommando prisoners (i.e. somewhat less innocent people) were executed and that Hössler ordered the hanging of women who supplied explosives to the Sonderkommando (i.e. somewhat less innocent people). It was likely already borne out during his pre-trial examination(s) that he was not willing to testify beyond that, so the prosecutors limited themselves to question him only on these somewhat less incriminating atrocities. Therefore, my conclusion that Bendel was "resistent towards manipulation and suggestive questions from the prosecution" is still indirectly (instead of directly as I argued before) supported to some extent by the trial records available online.

Also commenting on Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 3: Eyewitnesses (Supplement), Jansson provides "some general remarks concerning methodology" and points out what he think is one of my "most egregious errors":

"In his attempt to bolster Bendel’s testimony, Hans relies on enumerating aspects of Bendel’s testimony which are (or which he believes to be) accurate, or on which Bendel agrees with another witness. This is a natural method for an apologist seeking to defend a truth rooted in faith, but not adequate for the treatment of historical testimony."
(Friedrich Jansson,  C.S. Bendel and ceiling height (reply to an argument advanced by ‘Hans’)

Nope, estimating credibility and reliability of a source by cross-checking it against other sources is a natural method (or rather step) in historiography - and it's also intuitively applied in daily life. If a person tells you a story, you will more likely consider the story to be true if the person provided a lot of details you recognise as true than if the person provided you with a lot of details you already recognise as false.

This Christian apologist blog has it right that any historical detail in the Bible corroborated by other sources "makes us increasingly confident that the Bible is true in the areas that we cannot verify historically", relatively speaking. There is nothing wrong with this as far I can tell. It's common sense. But what matters at the end of the day is not the enhancement, but the actual probability that the specific statement is true. To illustrate the point, if there is something which is considered extremely unlikely, and if its probability is increased say by one order of magnitude by some sort of analysis, then it's still very unlikely. 

This probability depends critically on a number of factors that have to be taken into account, e.g.

  • authenticity of the source
  • competence of the author (e.g. eyewitness vs. hearsay)
  • how much of the source in general is corroborated, contradicted, historically not verifiable or plausible (plus how to weight these elements)
  • is the event in question corroborated, contradicted, not verifiable or plausible.

If we go through this for the Acts mentioned on the Christian apologist blog and specifically for the example of the flying Jesus (he "was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight" [Acts 1:9]) and then for Bendel's testimony at the Belsen trial and specifically for mass extermination in Auschwitz, the differences couldn't be much clearer:

  • Authorship, date, context of the Acts are not clear and leave plenty of room for interpretations  (=> considerable uncertainty) vs. Bendel was a former Auschwitz prisoner and testified on 1 October 1945 at the Belsen trial (=> quite certain)
  • The anonymous author of the Acts was a hearsay or double hearsay witness or no witness at all (=> incompetent observer) vs. Bendel was an eyewitness (=> competent observer)
  • The Acts contains some 30 "historically accurate facts" (and "Hemer lists many dozens of these") but that mostly concern  names, titles, locations, i.e. the historical background, but not actual historical events (=> selective corroboration excluding the most critical issue of historical events). In contrast to this, the full range of what Bendel testified at the Belsen trial can be largely corroborated, beginning with the historical background to actual historical events (=> full corroboration).
  • The flying Jesus as physical appearance is not corroborated (=> considerable uncertainty) vs. mass extermination in Auschwitz is very well corroborated by numerous seemingly independent sources (=> high certainty).

Already according to these points, mass extermination in Auschwitz (based on Bendel's testimony)  can be considered likely, while the flying Jesus is rather questionable. The nature of Bendel's testimony and its corroboration are far more superior. And then there is yet another factor to consider which drags the probability of the flying Jesus (as a physical phenomena; as a vision things are different of course) down to an almost infinitesimal low level:

  • It's not plausible (without technical aid, but which was likely not available 2000 years ago) taking into account what natural sciences teach us about gravity, aerodynamics, human physics etc. (=> extremely unlikely) vs. the gassing and disposal of people is plausible (=> possible) [and no, what some individuals publish on cyanide residues and cremation does not constitute safe knowledge from natural sciences]

So, the issue with the Christian apologist blog is not that they have pointed out corroborated descriptions in the Bible - it's that they have not taken into account other forms of source criticism and contradictions that have - in this specific case - a massive negative impact on the reliability and credibility of the source and outweigh any corroboration with other sources on the historical background. Likewise, the probative strength of reports on alien abductions (also mentioned by Jansson) is pretty low already due to poor corroboration directly on the issue and implausibility.

In contrast to this, the corroboration of Bendel's testimony at the Belsen trial is powerfull, and combined with the rather safe knowledge on provenance and authenticity (leaving aside translation issues) - which I did not discuss here since it seems common sense to me and undisputed by Holocaust deniers - and the lack of challenging implausibility - which I pointed out generically in the main part of the blog article - it constitutes strong evidence on mass extermination in Auschwitz.
 
"For example, Hans is impressed that “Bendel correctly identified Mengele as SS doctor […] “twins” as Mengele’s research topic”. Yet this was common knowledge, and Bendel’s knowledge of this does nothing to offer evidence for gassings."
(Friedrich Jansson,  C.S. Bendel and ceiling height (reply to an argument advanced by ‘Hans’)

I offered this as one piece of evidence among many to gauge the reliability and credibility of his testimony at the Belsen trial. If Bendel could not tell about Mengele, it would indicate he had an extremly poor memory or was never working as prisoner's doctor in Birkenau (which in turn also affects his reliability and credibility on mass exermination). But he knew the correct historical background, which is good to know. It's not impressive of course, and I never said so. That's a very "creative" interpretation from Jansson here. And the reference to Mengele is, in fact, not at all exemplary for my list of corroborated details, which is mostly composed of items related to the mass extermination sites, but which are entirely ignored by Jansson. That's some very serious quote mining here.

At the beginning of his article, Jansson claims that "Bendel never saw the inside of these structures, and is a fraudulent witness" based on the his ceiling height of 1.5 or 1.6 m. But exactly this common argument among Revisionists I have rebutted in Rebuttal of Mattogno on Auschwitz, Part 3: Eyewitnesses (Supplement), but which is also entirely ignored by Jansson. Of course, he may disagree with my conclusion, but then the minimum he should provide is to explain why.

I've conceded that the ceiling height provided by Bendel is absurd, which suggests that Bendel was never inside these structures. However, I've contrasted this to many reliable details he provided for the extermination sites, which leave little doubt that he was at the extermination sites and further that he was a competent, reliable and credible observer. Both suggestions are to a significant extent incompatible and the contradiction cannot be easily resolved. The best explanation I can think of is that his memory was selectively distorted on the gas chamber ceiling (his statement "Anybody who has ever seen a gas chamber filled to the height of one and a half metres with corpses will never forget it" at the Belsen trial is ambiguous and may refer only to the height of the corpses; if so, it may be the origin of the distortion that the ceiling was 1.5 m high).

Now, Jansson can insist that "Bendel never saw the inside of these structures, and is a fraudulent witness". But then he needs to explain how he was able to provide such many corroborated details on the extermination sites. He cannot simply plug his fingers in his ears and pretend these don't exist (well, he can do this of course, but then he cannot expect to be taken seriously by anyone else other than the usual Holocaust deniers). And exactly to emphasise this problem I provided this lengthy list of corroborated details in the blog article, anticipating that deniers would else for sure ignore this point. Yet, it did not help Jansson to adress and resolve this point.

"Moreover, given that he thought Bendel’s knowledge of Mengele worth mentioning in support of his reliability, Hans should explain why Bendel thought the doctor’s name was Peter Mengele."
(Friedrich Jansson,  C.S. Bendel and ceiling height (reply to an argument advanced by ‘Hans’)

I cannot find the reference to "Peter" in the transcript of the Belsen trial available online and Jansson doesn't provide a source for it either. But suppose that Bendel referred to Mengele's first name as Peter somewhere, this is readily explained by the fact that concentration camp prisoner's usually referred to the camp personnel by their surname and that knowledge of their first name would easily fade over time.

2 comments:

Roberto Muehlenkamp said...

Jansson has responded to this blog. Mendacious rhetoric graces the title of his response, in which Jansson accuses Hans of trying to "evade the facts on Bendel" and calls him a "controversial blogger". When I have time I’ll see if what follows is any better.

Hans said...

Now that's a lot of distortion & deception from Jannson. Didn't know he was such an aggressive, unpleasant, zero reflecting character in the need to let off some steam.

I'll prepare an adequate point for point rebuttal for this pile.