Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How (Not) To Read A Document Literally

When confronted by documents they don't like, deniers opt for one of two strategies. Either they declare the document a forgery, or they question its meaning. Given that most of the documents are in German, there's plenty of opportunity to reach for the dictionaries and declare that x does not mean x but in fact means y and z. The classic instance, of course, is in the pitiful attempts to reinterpret 'Ausrottung' as anything other than extermination.

When this tactic falls flat on its face, deniers will often insist that a 'literal' reading of the document does not indicate that mass murder took place. Yet when pressed, these supposedly literal readings often turn out to be remarkably creative in their lunatic attempts to get the document to say something other than proof of mass murder.

A case in point: a directive from the Sicherheitspolizei in Minsk concerning the organisation of the mass shooting of the remaining Jews in Slutsk. I recently confronted an internet Nutzi with this document, with the following results.


The document in question (Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei Weissruthenien, Einsatzbefehl v. 5.2.43, gez. Strauch, SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer, RGVA 500-1-769, pp.113-116) is well-known to the literature, being cited by among others Christian Gerlach in Kalkulierte Morde. Here is how Gerlach excerpted it, and how I originally presented the document to the Nutzi for comment:
Am 8. und 9. Februar 1943 wird in der Stadt Sluzk von dem hiesigen Kommando eine Umsiedlung der dortigen Juden vorgenommen....
Der Abtransport der Juden zum Umsiedlungsplatz geschieht mittels 6 Lkws, die von je 4 Letten begleitet werden...
Auf dem Umsiedlungsgelaende befinden sich 2 Gruben. An jeder Grube arbeitet je eine Gruppe von 10 Fuehrern und Maennern, die sich alle 2 Stunde abloesen. Zeiten 8-10 Uhr, 10-12 Uhr, 12-14 Uhr, 14- 16 Uhr....

On 8 and 9 February 1943 there will be a resettlement in the town Sluzk by the local command the resettlement of the Jews there.
The evacuation of the Jews to the resettlement place happens by means of 6 trucks, each to be accompanied by 4 Latvians.
At the resettlement area are 2 pits. At each pit a group of 10 leaders and men will work, to be relieved every 2 hours. Times 8-10 o'clock, 10-12 o'clock, 12-14 o'clock, 14-16 o'clock.

So the Jews were going to be 'resettled' into a pit at which groups of 10 men were working, to be relieved every two hours. Hmmm....

Now, to any sane person familiar with the subject matter, the document is a bit of a giveaway. 'Resettlement' is clearly a euphemism, as it was in many other contexts, for mass murder. The mention of pits ought to silence the last doubters. But oh no, this wasn't good enough. Here is how the Nutzi tried to rationalise the document. To be fair to him, I originally rather flippantly and casually translated 'Grube' as 'ditch', so he did get a little confused.
What I can make of this text with my poor German skills (you could have given me a translation too) is this :
Commandos have hauled away a bunch of jews from the city of Sluzk. These people were sent for forced labor to a relocation facility in 6 trucks. In this relocation facility, there are 2 workings. Of each of the workings, groups of 10 people work who for two hours after which they are relieved by another group. This text makes perfect sense when taking literally. Of course, it does sound a bit strange if you translate the word "Grube" as ditch, but an online dictionary I checked does not even mention this word as a possible translation. Rather, it translates the word as pit, workings or pothole.

Yet Umsiedlungsgelaende is resettlement ground. It is not a facility. There is no industrial function present. All there is, is a stream of trucks guarded by Latvians bringing Jews to pits, in front of which 10 men will 'work' for two hour shifts.

Let's also take his dictionary definition. 'Pothole' - were they kicking them down a cavern? 'Workings' isn't even listed in my German-English dictionary, though 'mine' is. Again, were they kicking them down a mine? More importantly, what does employing someone down a mine have to do with 'resettlement'? The response:
How do you KNOW there is no industrial function present? The description in the text gives the impression that we're dealing with a quarry of some kind.Jews did work in most of the concentration camps and ghettoes, even though the primary reason for them being their was not working. Why shouldn't they be working in facilities designated as "resettlement grounds"?

Because there is no mention of such facilities in the document, that's why.

Later on, he plaintively asked:
What is so crazy about taking a text literally?

Which is precisely what he did not do. Notice how his 'literal' reading has suddenly become very florid indeed. Well, anything to avoid the obvious, one presumes.

Indeed, the little dhimmi managed to screw up who was working at what:
Where you read "10 people working in 2 hours shifts", you think "10 people being killed every two hours".

No, it means 10 people killing for two hour shifts.
You think all this, even when there is no objective reason to believe that "10 people working in 2 hours shifts" doesn't mean "10 people working in 2 hours shifts", "relocation area" doesn't mean "relocation area" and where "special treatment" or "special wagen" can mean anything.

Except they don't mean 'anything', as this blog has discussed before, and 10 people working in 2 hour shifts in front of pits on a 'resettlement area' means nothing nice at all.

In any case, the trap is now baited. So I give him a slightly fuller excerpt from the document, taken from Eugen Kogon and Adalbert Rückerl's Nationalsozialistische Massentötungen durch Giftgas:
Am 8. und 9. Februar 1943 wird in der Stadt Sluzk von dem hiesigen Kommando die Umsiedlung der dortigen Juden vorgenommen. An der Aktion nehmen die unten namentlich aufgefuehrten Angehoerigen des Kommandos sowie rund 110 Angehoerige der lettischen Freiwilligenkomp. teil....
Auf dem Umsiedlungsgelaende befinden sich 2 Gruben. An jeder Grube arbeitet je einer Gruppe von 10 Fuehrern und Maennern, die sich alle 2 Stunden abloesen....
Als Patronenausgeber auf dem Umsiedlungsgelaende sind SS-Mann Kraft und Rottwachtmeister Altmann zustaendig....

The crucial addition reads 'responsible for giving out rounds are'. Surely by now our Nutzi friend will give up and concede defeat?
The proper translation would be "cartridge". Now, I don't happen to be an expert in mining or quarry labor, but I do tend to know that this word in English is used for many things from shotgun bullets to carriers of printer ink. Again, you just interpret the word the way you like. Besides.... why would anyone be handing out bullets all the time? Aren't they carrying enough ammo with them? Can't they just take it from the storage themselves? It makes more sense from an industrial context, although I have to admit that I don't really know what "cartidges" are used for in mining or quarry labor.

Except in a police or military context, as we have here, 'Patronen' means those round shiny things inserted into guns and fired from them, otherwise known as bullets. Yep, you read it correctly, a denier is so desperate to avoid the obvious that he will even deny that 'Patronen' meant bullets.

So I then draw his attention to the preceding sentence of the original document:
Gleichzeitig ist Vorgenannter fuer die Gestellung der Munition zustaendig.

Translation: At the same time the aforementioned are responsible for the provision of ammunition.

At this point, finally, there was silence.

In case anyone is still in any doubt as to what was intended, here's the document in full. Bolds are underlinings in the original.

Der Kommander der Sicherheitspolizei u.d. SD Weissruthenien


Minsk, den 5. Februar 1943

Am 8. und 9. Februar 1943 wird in der Stadt Sluzk von dem hiesigen Kommando die Umsiedlung der dortigen Juden vorgenommen. An der Aktion nehmen die unten namentlich aufgefuehrten Angehoerigen des Kommandos sowie rund 110 Angehoerige der lettischen Freiwilligenkomp. teil.
Die Leitung der Aktion liegt in den Haenden von SS-Obersturmfuehrer Mueller.
Die Teilnehmer der Aktion treten am 7. Februar 1943 um 11.15 Uhr in unteren Korridor des Dienstgebaeudes zur Abfahrt an. Die Leitung der Kraftwagenkolonne uebernimmt SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Breder. Von den Abteilungen nahmen folgende Fuehrer, Unterfuehrer und Maenner an der Aktion teil:
Abteilung I/II
Die SS-Obersturmfuehrer Kaul, Merbach,
SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Madecker und Schneider,
die SS-Unterstuf. Wertholz, Mueller, Junker, Schmidt, Wiechert,
SS-Sturmscharfuehrer Krause, Zehmann.
SS-Scharfuehrer Kruse,
Rottwachtmeister Altmann,
die SS-Rottenfuehrer Nikol, Geiger, Gruener, Stroessinger, Egger, Fischer,
SS-Oberscharfuehrer Gennert,
SS-Mann Kraft,
Wachtmeister Krahnke, Mischke
Abteilung III
Die SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Schlegel, Friedrich,
SS-Untersturmfuehrer Eck,
SS-Hauptscharfuehrer v.d. Golz,
SS-Rottenfuehrer Schramm,
die Dolmetscher Julik und Krowetz. [p.2]
Auf dem Umsiedlungsgelaende befinden sich 2 Gruben. An jeder Grube arbeitet je einer Gruppe von 10 Fuehrern und Maennern, die sich alle 2 Stunden abloesen. Zeiten 8-10 Uhr, 10-12 Uhr, 12-14 Uhr, 14-16 Uhr.

Grube I:
1. Gruppe:
SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Breder (Leitung),
SS-Oberstuf. Kaul, Merbach, SS-Hauptstuf. Schneider,
SS-Unterstuf. Wertholz, SS-Unterstuf. Mueller, SS-Unterstuf. Junker, SS-Sturmscharfuehrer Fritz, SS-Rottenfuehrer Geiger und Gruener.
2. Gruppe
SS-Hauptstuf. Schlegel, SS-Oberscharfuehrer Burger, Seckinger, Brandlmeier, SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Huettner, SS-Oberscharf. Weller, SS-Unterscharf. v. Toll, SS-Scharfuehrer Rexhauser, Zugwachtmstr. Exner und SS-Unterscharrfuehrer Hoerner.

Grube II:
1. Gruppe:
SS-Obersturmfuehrer Meuller, SS-Unterstuf. Eck, SS-Hauptstuf. Friedrich, Wachtmstr. Krahnke, SS-Hauptscharfuehrer v.d. Golz, SS-Rottenfuehrer Schramm, Stroessinger, Egger, Zehmann, Fischer.
2. Gruppe:
SS-Oberstuf. Oswald, SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Ruebe. SS-Unterstuf. Schmidt, SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Kreimann, SS-Oberscharf. Schuth, Gersberger, Poeckler, die SS-Unterscharf. Strathmann und SS-Oberscharf. Kremer, SS-Unterscharf. Gothmann.

Die Sicherung auf dem Umsiedlungsgelaende uebernimmt SS-Untersturmfuehrer Pierre mit 10 Letten.
Fuer das Kraftfahrwesens waehrend der Vorbereitungen in Minsk, waehrend des Transportes nach Sluzk und fuer die Aufsicht der Juden vom Ghetto zum Umsiedlungsgelaende ist SS-Unterstuf. Wiechert verantwortlich. Gleichzeitig ist Vorgenannter fuer die Gestellung der Munition zustaendig. Als Patronenausgeber auf dem Umsiedlungsgelaende sind SS-Mann Kraft und Rottwachtmeister Altmann zustaendig. [p.3]
Abteilung IV
SS-Obersturmfuehrer Mueller,
SS-Sturmscharfuehrer Fritz,
SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Ehrig,
die SS-Oberscharf. Buchner, Kramer, Burger, Sockinger, Gethmann,
die SS-Unterscharf. v. Toll, Rexhauser, Hoerner,
SS-Obersturmfuehrer Oswald,
SS-Oberscharfuehrer Rumschewitz, Brandlmeier,
SS-Unterscharfuehrer Strathmann,
die Dolmetscher Siesse, Sokolowski, Natarow, Aisupe, Gorschkow, Michelson,
die Hilfsbeamten: Bunte, Santz, Tomson, Sipols
und die Hilfskraefte: Meschek, Roniz, Eglitis, Kublimech, Auschkaps und Wikams.

Abteilung V
Die SS-Hauptscharf. Kreimann, Zeuschel und Huettner,
die SS-Oberscharf. Weller, Gersberger, Schuth, Pockler,
SS-Hauptscharf. Ruebe,
Dolmetscher Kraskowski und
die Hilfsbeamten Osols und Pleuks.

Durchfuehrung der Aktion in Sluzk:
Die Sicherung und Bewachung des Ghettos uebernimmt die Ordnungspolizei.
Die Auswertung des anfallenden Judeneigentums liegt in den Haenden vom SS-Hauptstuf. Madecker, den fuer diese Aufgabe ein Kommando von 2 Beamten (Kruse, Buchner), 2 Dolmetschern (Michelson, Natarow) und 10 Letten zur Verfuegung stehen.
Die Aufbringung der Juden im Ghetto steht unter der Leitung des SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Graaf, dem hierzu 6 Kommandos in Staerke von je einen Beamten und je 8 Letten zur Verfuegung stehen. Fuer diese Kommandos sind folgende Unterfuehrer vorgesehen:
Krause, Nikol, Gennert, Ehrig, Weller, Zeuschel.
Der Abtransport der Juden zum Umsiedlungsplatz geschieht mittels 6 Lkw, die von je 4 Letten begleitet werden. [p.4]
Fuer die Verpflegung und die Unterbringung der Fuehrer und Maenner ist SS-Oberstuf, Kaul verantwortlich.
An der Sonderaktion nehmen saemtl. Fuehrer und Maenner der hiesigen Dienststelle, ausser folgenden Fuehrern und Maennern, die in Minsk bleiben, teil:
SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Bohnendorfer, SS-Oberstuf. Dr. Heuser, SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Hartmann, SS-Oberstuf. Feder, SS-Sturmscharfuehrer Much, SS-Oberscharf. Edel, SS-Hauptscharf. Zug, SS-Unterscharf. Koch, SS-Oberscharf, Frolik, SS-Oberscharf. Kunzengruber, SS-Oberscharf. Friedl, SS-Scharf. Wimmer, SS-Scharf. Rau, Wachtmsts. Ruediger, SS-Oberscharf. Kuhnenberger, SS-Oberscharf. Knot. Die Dolmetscher: Eiche, Goile, Schire und Wohlfahrt. Ausserdem bleibt SS-Unterscharf. Wolf, der fuer die Juden im hiesigen Dienstgebaeude verantwortlich ist, zurueck. Die Fernschreibestube, Telefonzentrale und die Kueche bleiben wie ueblich besetzt.
Die nichteingeteilten Fuehrer, Unterfuehrer und Maenner (Aussendienststellen) in Sluzk unterstehen SS-Haupsturmfuehrer Wilke.
Die Rueckkehr fuer die nicht zum Unternehmen 'Hornung' vorgesehenen Fuehrer und Maenner wird in Sluzk bekannt gegeben.

gez. Strauch

If anyone can identify the mysterious 'industrial facilities' or 'mines' which the Nutzi claimed must have been referred to in this document, I'd be very grateful for the pointer.

Nowhere in the document are the words 'execution', 'shooting', 'liquidation' or 'extermination' to be found, yet there is simply no other possible reading of the document. Alas for the Nutzi, and alas for revisionism, what we have here is a unit tasking order detailing, by name, the officers and men assigned to four firing-squads who are to shoot the Jews of the ghetto in Slutsk in such a way that their bodies fall into two mass graves. Which, incidentally, the Soviets exhumed after the war, but that's another story.

As is the existence of a diary entry from one officer involved (Wilke), interrogations postwar of another NCO (Buchner), a report recording the execution of 3,300 Jews during Operation 'Hornung' alongside 2,219 partisans killed in battle and 7,378 'partisan supporters' shot after battle (Meldungen aus den besetzen Ostgebieten Nr. 46, 19.3.43, NA T175/236/2725678-9), not to mention interrogations and eyewitness accounts from other participants in the mass-execution as well as Belorussian bystanders who witnessed the events of February 8 and 9 1943 in their hometown of Slutsk.

Of course, silly old me should have spammed the entire original to begin with, but it was almost worth it just to extract the laughable nonsense above from the Nutzi.

And of course, feel free to spam the above document in full next time you run across an internet Nazi with a shaky grasp on reality. If you get a 'literal reading' any more whacky than the above example of creative reinterpretation, do let us know!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Didn't take long for the "f-word" to appear here...

    How very predictable....

  3. and, btw, Lurch,nice to see you post something other than your usual crap...

  4. Anonymous above posted the following

    "In 1939, with the founding of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA), the Sicherheitspolizei as a functioning office ceased to exist. The term survived in common usage, however, and was most often used by local security force commanders who adopted the title Inspektor des Sicherheitspolizei und SD.

    So you are waiving a memo from
    an organization which ceased to
    exist as of 1939. What was the
    date of your "well known" memo?

    Not likely that the official
    would use the title of a
    nonexistent agency
    but very likely that someone
    who knew "common usage"
    would incorrectly create a

    What anonymous has forgotten is that the Kommandeure der Sicherheitspolizei were differe tto the Inspektor, which was a higher position.

    He also forgot that IdS survived as a term inside Germany whereas in the occupied territories these senior commanders were called BdS, Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei.

    BdS Ostland commanded KdS Weissruthenien

    I'll deal with the rest of this flim-flam later.

  5. Our anonymous poster, whose original piece of spam will soon enough be deleted (we don't mind comments, we just think anonymous comments are cowardly, especially when they probably come from a known quantity elsewhere), continued:

    "The document itself is interesting.
    Standard Soviet black propaganda
    was never direct...it
    would be along the lines of-

    Commander X (always a real name) reporting on the
    resettlement of 12,435 Jews
    from Slutsk on 2.11.43. What shall I do with the gold from the teeth?
    Heil Hitler
    Kommandeur der SS
    Oberstrumbannfuehrer Terri"

    Our anonymous poster skipped over the paragraph in which I pointed out that there was cross-confirmatory evidence from _western_ archives. So nope, this one doesn't fly, I'm afraid.

    He went on:

    "Any honest researcher should ask
    the following questions.
    Where did the directive come from?
    ie. when and where was it

    Duh, it came from the Minsk HQ of the Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei. Sometimes you have to wonder whether deniers actually have any braincells to rub together.

    "Why was it written?- ie. why would
    the person report that groups of
    men were relieved every two hours
    with the times given?"

    Except this isn't a _report_, it's an _order_.

    "Of course determinative evidence
    would be:
    Were two pits contining thousands of bodies found at the town of Sluzk?"

    Yes, they were. Again, muppet skipped over the explicit mention of this fact in my post.

    "These are the type of evidence needed to review the validity
    of the odd Document, not the
    fact that it is, "well-known to the literature"."

    Except the historians who have written about this have done precisely that, most especially Christian Gerlach. Going cheap in subsidised paperback!

    "The recent admissions regarding
    Majdanek and the Majdanek
    showtrial of 1944 show that
    Soviet creation of evidence was
    massive and detailed. At Nuremberg the Soviets produced similar documents along with
    physical evidence, eye witnesses,
    and confessions proving that
    1.5 million people were killed at
    Majdanek (usually in gas chambers)
    While similar Soviet
    evidence regarding human soap
    or German culpability for the Katyn
    killings were fairly quickly
    disregarded it has taken 60 years
    for the Majdanek Myth to slowly
    drift down to a still terrible but
    "normal" reality.

    However the Majdanek Myth, along with the Human Soap evidence, and
    Katyn evidence show that there are
    lots of bogus documents floating around, often created to discredit Baltic or Ukrainian nationalist groups."

    Here we find that our anonymous poster is probably blowing his cover, and is most likely David Allen, troll extraordinaire at Skeptics Society Forum.

    Our Troll friend forgets, once again, that there is documentary evidence found in _western_ archives about this action, so that if he wants to allege Conspiracy, he now has a much, much more complex task ahead of him.

    Good luck!

  6. It continues to amaze me how so many Nazi apologists, your interlocutor included, insist on a "literal reading" of documents despite lacking an adequate grasp of the German language and familiarity with military jargon of Germanic-speaking countries. I'm a Dutch national, with four years' schooling in German and plenty of practical experience speaking it; I'm also a former Dutch army conscript, and much of the (para)military lingo in the Einsatzbefehl is readily recognizable (partly due to the similarity between German and Dutch, but also because the Dutch army adopted a large number of German practices following the resounding Prussian victory over France in 1870-71, including order formats and terminology).

    Any serious student of the period should also be familiar with the fact that both the Allgemeine and Waffen-SS had a parallel rank structure, in which the word Führer featured prominently. From this order alone, it is readily apparent that the SS used the word as any other (para)military formation (the Wehrmacht included) would use the word "officer." This is indicated, for instance, by the term Unterführer; literally, "sub-leader" but remarkably similar to Unteroffizier, the German for NCO. From context, it may thus also be divined that the phrase "Führer und Männer" should be read to mean "[commissioned and/or non-commissioned] officers and [enlisted] men."

    Your Nutzi's "literal interpretation" of the excerpt read:
    "These people were sent for forced labor to a relocation facility in 6 trucks. In this relocation facility, there are 2 workings. Of each of the workings, groups of 10 people work who for two hours after which they are relieved by another group."
    This is plainly incorrect. The only mention of "labor" is in connection to the groups working the Gruben. These groups of ten are, however, to be composed of Fuehrer und Männer; "officers and men," i.e. SS personnel. This is further borne out by the group assignments contained in the order, naming the SS personnel who are to make up each 10-man group. The order makes no mention whatsoever of the "resettled" Jews being expected to perform any labor. That is what an actual literal reading bears out.

    Then there's the Nutzi's equivocation with regards to the word Patrone.
    "The proper translation would be "cartridge". Now, I don't happen to be an expert in mining or quarry labor, but I do tend to know that this word in English is used for many things from shotgun bullets to carriers of printer ink."
    How the word "cartridge" is used in English is wholly irrelevant, as the order is in German. And in a German-language (para)military context, the default meaning of Patrone (as in Platzpatrone, blank round, and scharfe Patrone, live round) is small-arms ammunition. If anything other than small-arms ammunition were meant, this would be specified with one of those long composite nouns for which the German language is famous. Even without the preceding sentence which explicitly mentions Munition, it's pretty unambiguous.

    Bottom line is, claiming that your interpretation is the correct one when you don't actually speak German properly is ridiculous beyond belief. It's pretty obvious why Anonymous here had to go the "it's a forgery" route; it's an admission that the order says exactly what Nick Terry says it does.

  7. Thanks, Jurjen, for these comments.

    The first time I posted the shorter, initial excerpt, on a different forum, a native German speaker and Holocaust denier immediately cut to the chase and declared it a forgery. He recognised straight away that the document was horribly incriminating.

    I found the Nutzi's desperate attempts to rationalise the document very indicative of the tactics adopted even by 'prominent' deniers such as Arthur Butz and Carlos Porter, both of whom have made a career out of hairsplitting German nouns.

    Your point about composites is obvious to anyone with more than a few years' German lessons. In the original dispute, I actually pointed out that 'Grube' would generally only mean 'mine' if it was qualified, like Kiesgrube, Kohlengrube, etc.

    When I posted the full version, which shut him up, I also posted a full transcript of an order for a genuine resettlement, by the Wehrmacht. The difference in detail and what was being prescribed is like chalk and cheese.

    Finally, another point I made in the original dispute which I didn't include above: if there is a 'resettlement', then surely the order should specify the destination where the Jews are being resettled *to*.

    It is perhaps unsurprising that when Umsiedlung or Evakuierung were used as euphemisms, they were used as a self-contained word, most often without a qualifying 'nach' and destination. This almost autistic use of the term is a big red flag to anyone with some of their marbles intact.

  8. This is a great site and you are doing a very worthy job, keep it up!

  9. The word for small arms ammo is the same in Afrikaans.

    Thanks to the Dutch scholar for an interesting read.

    As far as Ausrotten, there is a great thread on Wendel's site about the meaning. I think deracinate from one of Shakespeare's plays is translated into German as ausrotten.


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