Saturday, January 23, 2016

Gassing of Mental Patients by Sonderkommando Lange in Novgorod

The gassing of mental patients on Soviet territory was a topic of discussion in the Wehrmacht during September 1941, as shown by Halder's diary entry of September 26, which stated "Mental institutions in sector of AGp. North. Russians regard the feeble-minded as holy. Killing nevertheless necessary" [source, p.124, also submitted with a slightly different translation at Nuremberg as cited here]. On October 1, Halder noted that Wagner had discussed "Novgorod mental institutions" [source, p.133].

A decision to kill Novgorod mental patients using Sonderkommando Lange is documented in these decodes numbered 22 and 23, which were first discussed by Richard Breitman in Official Secrets, p.99 [citing PRO HW 16/32, 3 Oct. 1941]. They show, as Breitman states, an "extraordinary" cooperation between the army and Himmler's Personal Staff (Persoenliche Stab RFSS). The text of the first decode also clearly proves the involvement of T4 (represented by "Ltnt. HEFELMANN Kanzlei des Führers") and the willingness of a "senior physician" within the Wehrmacht, namely "FREYBERG of the army high command", to initiate a request to kill mental patients. The German text and an English translation appear below:

An Hauptsturmführer GROTHMANN.
Auf Befehl Sturmbannführer BRANDT gebe ich folgendes Fs. zur Entscheidung Rf SS durch KONRAD, Scharführer. "SSD Posen B d O Nr 36. Geheim. An Rf SS, Sonderzug Heinrich; soeben rief mit dem Oberarzt FREYBERG vom Oberkdo des Heeres auf Veranlassung von Ltnt. HEFELMANN Kanzlei des Führers an, und bat darum zur Ausräumung von 3 Ihren Anstalten bei NOWGOROD an Ilmen-See ein Sonderkdo LANGE mit entsprechender Reparatur nach dort zu entsenden. Oberarzt FREYBERG erklärte sich bereit am 5. Oktober vormittags ein JU 52 nach Posen zu schicken, damit Krim.kommissar Lange mit etwa 5 Mitarbeitern seine Tätigkeit umgehend aufnimmt. Oberarzt FREYBERG wies auf die dringende Notwendigkeit des sofortigen Eintreffens hin, da die Insassen schwer Ruhrkrank sind und die Truppe die Anstalten als Quartiere dringend benötigt. Ich bitte um Entscheidung des RF SS, ob nach Lage der Dinge eine Entsendung des Sonderkommandos Lange nach NOWGOROD in Frage kommt. Fuer umgehende Mitteilung wäre ich dankbar, da gegebenenfalls noch einige Vorbereitungen für diese Aktion erforderlich sind. Höherer SS und Pol.führer. gezeichnet KOPPE, SS Gruppenführer." 
To Hauptsturmführer GROTHMANN.

At the order of Sturmbannführer BRANDT I provide you with the following telex regarding decision Reichsführer SS KONRAD, Scharführer.

"SSD Posen commander of the order police number 36. Secret. To the Reichsführer SS, special train Heinrich; just now, the senior physician FREYBERG of the army high command has called at the instigation of lieutenant HEFELMANN [of] the Führer's chancellery and requests to sent Sonderkommando Lange with suitable repair [prob. means: apparatus] for the clearing of three of their asylums near NOWGOROD at lake Ilmen. The senior physician FREYBERG agreed to sent a JU 52 to Posen on the morning of 5 October, so that the chief inspector LANGE can immediately start working with about 5 staff members. The senior physician FREYBERG emphasized the urgent need of their immediate arrival, because the inmates are suffering from dysentery and the asylums are urgently needed for troop quarters. I request a decision of the Reichsführer SS if the dispatch of Sonderkommando Lange can be considered under the circumstances. I would be grateful for a prompt notification, since some preparations for this action may be necessary. The higher SS and police leader, signed KOPPE, SS Gruppenführer."
We can also note here that these signals are embedded in lengthy lists of intercepted messages for that day; their placement as messages 22 and 23, with no visible disruption to subsequent signals in the day's run, provides ample confirmation that the message was intercepted on that date.

Himmler's involvement in gassing decisions concerning the USSR can be traced to his visit to Minsk in mid-August, which led to the decodes of 16 and 18 August 1941 showing how Bach-Zelewski had demanded Lange's utilization (summarised in Der Dienstkalender p.195 note 15, image here). Nebe sent a telegram via Enigma to his home office asking for a KTI technician in the same context. These two facts confirm Bach-Zelewski's postwar account, as printed in Aufbau on 23.8.1946; Mattogno is therefore wrong to claim that Bach-Zelewski's account is unsupported by documentation (Chelmno, p.12).

In conclusion, there can be no doubt that these messages were sent to gain authorization for a gas van action, which Himmler duly gave [PRO HW 16/32, 4 Oct. 1941, item 20]. Lange had gassed mental patients at Soldau [source] and would gas "about 100,000 Jews" in the Warthegau [source]. The significance of Novgorod is the proof of how well Lange's activities were known and valued by individuals in the army high command (including its senior physicians), Hitler chancellery and Himmler's Personal Staff.


  1. I know this is off topic but does anyone why Holocaust isn't working anymore?
    They had great articles

  2. This should put an end to the daft rabbit's nonsense on the Novgorod action.

  3. Here's a piece of free advice for citing these decodes:

    - Cite the ZIP codes. The decodes are arranged in the files in numerical order of the ZIPs.They're not arranged by date they were intercepted (in later ones denoted as "Traffic"), nor the date they were decoded (date in top right corner).

    HW 16/32 has 982 pages of decodes in it. So if someone just cites a decode's traffic date, anyone who wants to check it has to flick through that enormous file until they find it. It's a bothersome search that can then become confused by the fact that there are multiple lists of decodes for some traffic dates in this file. And that goes for all the verbatim German language decode HW 16 files.

    For example, HW 16/32 contains two separate sets of decodes for the traffic date you've cited: 03.10.41. ZIP/GPD 402, which contains the two messages you've mentioned above, and ZIP/GPD 387; 5 pages containing 34 further decodes of traffic intercepted that day.

    Anyway, I never disputed what Breitman wrote about this incident in his 1998 book and echoed here by Hans S., with the additional mention of two docs that JH has written about countless times. The boggle was always only the plagiarism (yet another one) by a member of HC of the decode of 04.10.41, which this HC member completely bungled by forgetting to even mention the decodes 03.10.41.

    Congrats on the concise presentation of the Nowgord incident in this post, but it effects the proven case of HC plagiarism not one jot.

  4. The Black Rabbit of Inlé,

    this is certainly a case of an incomplete citation that should have included the earlier decode Konrad to Grothmann of 3 October 1941 as well as a fair reference to Breitmann and that's something that will have to be corrected by the authors in future.

    Personally, what I find far more relevant than a sloppy citation is the fact that Jon was fairly right on the actual issue, whereas Mattogno's representation that "the history of the employment of “gas vans” in this context does not have any documentary evidence, and what Harrison writes on the matter is simply the result of his fantasy" (TECOAR, p. 318) is entirely wrong, as anybody can now readily confirm from the decode quoted in this posting.

    You may scream plagiarism as much as you want (by the way, a somewhat more serious case can be found here), nevermind the file has been seen by at least one of the authors, but at the end of the day what matters most is if the critique of Mattogno, Grad and Kues is factually correct and reasonable, not if every single citation of this work has been thoroughly checked for accuracy and completeness (something I expect for the next edition though).

  5. J Kelly said...

    I know this is off topic but does anyone why Holocaust isn't working anymore? They had great articles

    Can't tell you more, but they had recurring server problems in the past. You can still access the site via wayback machine.

  6. Thank you, that was helpful. I hope they get whatever the problem they are having fixed.

  7. Hans Sortie: You may scream plagiarism as much as you want (by the way, a somewhat more serious case can be found here ), nevermind the file has been seen by at least one of the authors,

    Perhaps I need new specs, but as far as I can see I didn't present a archival reference from the AB museum as being my source for the quotes; there is no pretence of having seen Hoess's handwritten original memoirs.

    Hardball is played in the HC comment section. Commentators are expect to abide by the strictest rules of scholarship whilst citing sources.

    Which is ironic when you consider that in HC's self-heralded "serious scholarly project", it's an absolute free-for-all. Its authors quote unattributed paraphrasing of archival documents which they present as being quote from the original. If and when this novel type of scholarship is questioned, they all repeat unison: 'One of us visited that archive 15 years ago, he may or may not of seen that particular file, but he was undoubtedly within a several hundred feet of it. So we've done nothing wrong. It's not plagiarism, not when we do it."

  8. The Black Rabbit of Inlé said:

    "Perhaps I need new specs, but as far as I can see I didn't present a archival reference from the AB museum as being my source for the quotes; there is no pretence of having seen Hoess's handwritten original memoirs."

    Well, quoting a memoir and a manuscript without providing a secondary source certainly implies you have quoted from the original, whatever the archival reference may be.

    "Hardball is played in the HC comment section. Commentators are expect to abide by the strictest rules of scholarship whilst citing sources."

    Please, I would not have bothered at all about your plagiarism if you did not repeat that accusation on HC authors before. That was just some food for the thoughts for you, that sloppy citing can easily happen in the heat of the debate and although it is a misconduct that should not happen and needs to be corrected, it is worth not more than a footnote of the debate as long as the underlying argument and presentation is reasonable and valid (unlike in Kollerstrom's case on the 1948 ICRC report). I defend you that you should point out problematic citations. But given your obsession with such formal issues, it seems as if you haven't much more relevant to say on the actual critique, which is already a good sign that its authors have done a lot right.

    "Which is ironic when you consider that in HC's self-heralded "serious scholarly project", it's an absolute free-for-all."

    I don't think the authors of the critique claimed their work was free of any flaws. It stands to reason that more time should have been invested for a thorough critical proof-reading of the citations.

  9. Just consider the impact of this on either the HC critique and Mattogno.

    For the HC critique, this will urge only a minor revision of a figure and some addition to the footnote.

    In contrast, Mattogno will have to do a major revision since the long decode Konrad to Grothmann seriously rebuts him. He may be forced into another forgery allegation or into some other mental gymnastics that will isolate him even more from any common sense.

  10. Rabbit's fuss-making has probably done HC a favour because we didn't have enough time in 2011 to maximize the potential of this episode, which demolishes Mattogno in so many areas (purpose of Sk Lange, gas vans, involvement of euthanasia officials in killing decisions in USSR, widespread knowledge in USSR that gas vans existed).

    Overall, the Critique began as preparation for a debate that never happened, but it's ultimate function has been to force Mattogno to deal with evidence he'd rather not face, and then watch him resort to wilder and crazier interpretations of that evidence, based on false premises about "no docs" or "forgeries".

    If that means we have to incur some bruises because the Critique was rushed out, I'll take it, especially as I know the errors were due to time pressure not an attempt to steal credit for Breitman or whomever; I have always acknowledged my debt to those historians on the blog and on the old RODOH.

  11. I tried posting this on CODOH, but Hungover might block it, so I'll post it here. It might stop you insisting a gas wagon was definitely used in this action:

    I see now that these particular decodes were discussed at the libel trial Irving brought against Penguin/Lipstadt.

    Peter Longerich argued that these decodes don't necessarily mean an actual gas van was flown to Novograd, it could mean that Sonderkommando Lange flew out there with bottles of CO to kill the patients:

    Mr Irving:
    There is only point in disputing what Sonderkommando Langer [sic] was up to. Are you familiar with the fact that it was also apparently flown, according to Brightman [sic], to take part in operations, I think Novgarod [sic]?

    Dr Heinz Peter Longerich:
    Yes. This is the link between the Warthegau killings and the killings in Russia because we know from actually, it is the intercepts I think, we know that Himmler summoned the Sonderkommando to Novgarod where they killed the inmates of a local home for disabled people. This is an essential part of the history of the Chelmno extermination camp. This is the link.

    Mr Irving:
    Does not the document show that the Sonderkommando was flown to Novgarod?

    Dr Heinz Peter Longerich:

    Mr Irving:
    How could they have put their van in a plane?

    Dr Heinz Peter Longerich:
    I did not say that they used a van. They killed the people obviously with bottles.

    Mr Irving:
    By some other means?

    Dr Heinz Peter Longerich:
    No, with bottles, gas in bottles.

    - Day 25, 24.02.00, pp.137-8.


    The first of the 3 decodes says a "JU 52" was to be flown to Posen to collect five men of Sonderkommando Lange.

    A Junkers Ju 52 wasn't big enough to carry any sort of vehicle, so Longerich must be right.


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