Friday, October 06, 2006

How the convergence of evidence works: the gas van of Auschwitz

Deniers often complain about the concept of the convergence of evidence, claiming that the allegedly contradictory claims by eyewitnesses constitute a divergence of evidence. They miss the point most of the time, and mostly compare apples and oranges (e.g., comparing hearsay to direct eyewitness testimonies, or not taking into account objective factors which may be responsible for apparent contradictions, etc.).

The convergence of evidence, however, is a strong tool. It may be compared to a stack of papers – you can easily tear one page, but tearing a stack of pages is more difficult.

Below you’ll find a nice demonstration of how it works.

When I was reading Christian Gerlach’s article “Failure of Plans for an SS Extermination Camp in Mogilëv, Belorussia", I noticed that in a footnote he referred to an unpublished Einsatzgruppe B report, which allegedly mentioned gas vans. My curiosity was understandably piqued – every documentary piece of evidence for the existence of gas chambers (of which gas vans are a subset) is quite important for the refutation of deniers.

So, I wrote to Dr. Gerlach and soon received an excerpt from Taetigkeits- und Lagebericht der Einsatzgruppe B fuer die Zeit vom 16. bis 28. Februar 1942., and a little bit later the whole report. (Months later I received another copy from Nick, from a different archive; I refer to Gerlach’s article for archival data, p. 77n83).


The report did indeed contain numerous mentions of Gaswagen


The report informs about two Gaswagen with some defects which arrived in Smolensk for the use of Einsatzkommandos. We're also informed about other gas vans, already in use.

Now, for any unbiased person, this evidence confirms the numerous testimonies about gas vans, and also the surviving gas vans documentation (like PS-501).

But of course, deniers wouldn’t be deniers if they wouldn’t try to find an alternative explanation for the use of this term, no matter how far-fetched. Thus, they argue, Gaswagen were actually producer-gas vehicles.

No matter that in the report, as one semi-denier pointed out, Gaswagen is a functional designation, along with Tankwagen and Werkstattwagen (p. 8), not a technical designation. No matter that if the term Gaswagen was indeed used for innocuous producer-gas vehicles, we would expect deniers to quote hundreds of innocuous documents containing this term. Deniers will still grasp at the last remaining straw in order to save their Faith.

And here’s where convergence of evidence comes into play.

I don’t remember exactly how I came upon this information, but in Fritjof Meyer’s infamous article I discovered the following footnote:
33. Filip Friedman: To jest Oswiecim! Warsaw 1945, p. 70. - The same: Tadeusz Holuj: Oswiecim, mit einem Vorwort von Dr. Waclaw Barcikowski. Warsaw 1945, p. 81. - F. Friedman: This was Oswiecim. London 1946, p. 47 ff., 2nd ed., p. 54: A gas van is said to have been used for smaller groups, namely in a sandpit by a special commando Ruryck (version of 1946: Ryryck), using a Saur lorry which had been in service in Russia, with the registration number Pol 71-462, 4m long, 2,5m wide, chauffeur: Oberwachtmeister Arndt. Friedman based his account on the report of a resistance group in Auschwitz which on 21.9.1943 sent the information to Cracow that "a gas van of the make Saur was stationed with an engine plough, in order to carry out executions with engine fumes on order of the police summary court martial". The Auschwitz inmate Mordechai Zirulnizki reported that shootings at the "Black Wall" in Auschwitz, i.e. in the main camp, had been replaced in 1944 by the "Duschegubka" (Soul-Vendors) as the Russians called the gas vans; Wassili Grossmann/Ilja Ehrenburg/Arno Lustiger: Das Schwarzbuch. Der Genozid an den sowjetischen Juden. Reinbeck 1995, p. 935.
Gas van with the registration number Pol 71-462? What the heck, this is the same Gaswagen which is mentioned on page 7 of EG B report!
EK 8: Lkw Saurer Pol 71 462
Armed with this information I wrote to the Auschwitz Musuem to learn what is known about gas vans in Auschwitz. Soon a reply from the Head of the Archives, Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz arrived. According to him, several testimonies about the use of the gas vans in Auschwitz existed, but the Museum researchers could not completely confirm the accuracy of these claims:
Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate in the records of Fahrbereischaft any hint about existence or repairing of this truck there. Since many details in reports by the resistance or survivors' testimonies seemed to be imprecise or even vague and - what is more important - there were no practical need to exploit this sort of transportable gas vans at Auschwitz together with more efficient and simple to operate stationary gas chambers, my colleague Mr. Piper in his essay about extermination facilities in the camp considered those testimonies uncertain, but he did not rejected them categorically. Of course your suggestion is very important or - I would rather say - decisive in this regard and must be taken into account in our further publications.
Dr. Setkiewicz was very kind to supply me with numerous excerpts from various testimonies, which mentioned the gas vans. I quote them below in the appendix. He has also sent me an image of the resistance report, on which Friedman relied. This is the message from Stanislaw Klodzinski to Teresa Lasocka-Estreicher ("K. Tell") and Edward Halon ("Boruta") sent in September of 1944 (Camp Resistance Files, vol. 2. p. 161; Friedman got the year wrong):


Police wagon no. 71462 - in other words a mobile gas chamber in Auschwitz. A unit of the so-called "Polizei-Sonderkommando", which previously worked in Lithuania, is stationed in the vicinity of the camp. This criminal commando used a car that was sealed, with a grate and hermetically closed doors, which served as mobile gas chambers (sic) to transport prisoners. To the end of the exhaust pipe there is attached the end of a metal hose, which when "needed" leads the wagon's exhaust gases into the wagon's interior through an appropriate opening. The inside of the wagon is a cabin made airtight by a tin lining, 4 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. The heavy doors lack any openings and have no latch on the inside. To the right of the doors is an opening covered by a heavy grating which can be opened from the outside and serves to air the wagon out after an execution. Description of the wagon: model Saurex (sic), in the shape of a long box, painted greenish-yellow. Registration no. Pol 71462, driver: Arndt, Oberwachtmeister of the Polizei-Sonderkommando. He should by the way be sentenced to death*. This wagon was used among other things to execute civilians convicted by the so-called Polizei-Sondergericht. The driver on that occasion left the van standing with the throttle open and, while walking around, joked: 'meanwhile, the little birds are choking in there.' Send to. (sic)
Cordial greetings - Staklo.

(* At this time the camp resistance was composing a list of criminals from Auschwitz to be broadcast by the BBC.)

This document by itself also may be discarded as absolute evidence for the existence of gas vans in general and in Auschwitz in particular. After all, even the Auschwitz Museum researchers didn’t think it was strong evidence.

But what happens when we tie the two documents – EG B report and Auschwitz resistance report – together?

These documents are completely independent from each other – written in different times, in different places, under different circumstances.

Yet, they obviously refer to the same vehicle, gas van Pol. 71462. Auschwitz report explicitly claims that it is a homicidal gas van. EG B report doesn’t claim that, but Einsatzgruppe B itself was a killing squad.

The coincident descriptions (“gas van", registration number) prove that this particular Auschwitz resistance message is credible. The author did not dream up this van. It really existed. Thus, the message can also be trusted on the description of the function of this gas van – it was indeed a homicidal gas van. We could have deduced it already from EG B report only (see above), but convergence of evidence proves our deduction beyond a reasonable doubt.

That’s how it works.

PS: And since we're talking about convergence of evidence, how about this: one of PS-501 documents [1, 2] mentions three S-Wagen/Spezialwagen-Saurer related to a certain "special mission" (Sonderauftrag) and tied to Sonderbehandlung of Jews. Given that the registration number of one of these vans is 71463, guess what we can say about the purpose of these S-Wagen despite any "revisionist" complaints?

Testimonies about the use of the gas vans in Auschwitz, translated from Polish and German by Dr. Steve Paulsson (who also translated the above resistance message).

Testimony of Stanislaw Dubiel (Höß Trial, vol. 25, p. 82):

It was Sturmbannführer Henschel who at first seemed to us to have a very good character. And in a few days, he found another method – gassing in a car. The car goes to Birkenau, by the time it gets there everyone is dead. The driver explained how it works, that the exhaust pipe goes straight into the car. By the time the driver gets to where he’s going, they’re already dead. That was the behaviour of this supposedly good man.
Testimony of Jan Dziopek (Höß Trial, vol. 8, p. 109):

They were carried out at Block 11 until October 1944, after that the condemned were killed only at Birkenau, where they were taken from our place* in a prison van. That type of van was very tightly sealed and had apparatus for gassing the people inside. The gassing apparatus was built in the automobile workshops of the Fahrbereitschafts–Kommando.
* I.e. Auschwitz main camp.

Testimony of Edward Wrona (Höß Trial, vol. 26, p. 8.):

I think none of the witnesses has emphasized that gas vans were used at Auschwitz. I assume that the accused Höß knew about it, because he went every day to look at his beautiful limousine in the automobile workshops and saw the three vans in which people were murdered standing there. Working at the water pumping station in Block 18, I leaned my head out and observed how girls and men were packed into these vans and the executions were carried out. I witnessed how one night a German general was executed, supposedly just for refusing to carry out an order in wartime. That time around 50 limousines drove up with a huge retinue of generals and the camp command, and the execution* was carried out ceremoniously, lighting up the wall of death and the square behind Block 11 with a searchlight.
* Possibly this refers to different, "regular" execution.

Testimony of Kazimierz Grabowski (Höß Trial, vol. 26, p. 32, 33):

Presiding judge: Was there* a truck there designated in advance for gassing people?
Witness: Once one van that was especially encased in wood came in for repairs, I didn’t know what kind of van it was. German vehicles ran on methanol. There it was fitted with an exhaust pipe, round with small holes, when the prisoners were inside the van, the gas got in that way. After 15 minutes a person was ready. Before it even reached the crematorium, there were only corpses in the van. I ran across only one vehicle like that, on which I worked.
Pres: Was the van constantly in use?
Witness: Constantly, unless it was damaged, then it went in to be fixed.
Pres: Was this van used inside the camp, or outside?
Witness: That I don’t know.
* I.e. in the camp automobile repair workshops.

Testimony of Jozef Sliwa (APMAB, Collection "Statements", vol. 3, p. 336, 337):

When a larger number of sick people had accumulated*, they were taken in vans to Auschwitz. I saw the vans – gas chambers, into which transports of Muselmans were loaded. I went inside and saw the gassing apparatus, i.e. pipes to let the exhaust gases in.
* In the Golleschau sub-camp.

Testimony of Zbigniew Kazmierczyk (APMAB, Collection "Statements", vol. 45, p. 4):

Commissions often came from Auschwitz, which carried out selections among sick prisoners in the hospital. The selected prisoners were taken away to Auschwitz by vehicles, already gassing them on the way. I know from what friends told me that they were dark green, reinforced, sealed when closed, into which exhaust gas was let in.

Testimony of Wladyslaw de Rosenberg Grohs, police prisoner from Block 11 (APMAB. Collection "Statements", vol. 73, p. 38):

Yes, well out of my hall sometimes only two persons out of 100 were transferred as prisoners to one of the blocks in the camp, the rest were loaded into trucks. In any case, at that time executions were not carried out in the courtyard of Block 11. We were convinced that the prisoners sentenced to death by the police Special Court were suffocated with exhaust products in the boxes of vans – before they got as far as the crematoria.

Testimony of Artur Meyer (APMAB, Collection "Statements", vol. 93, p. 23, 23a):

Moreover, in Auschwitz there was a special apparatus. It was a van - gas chamber. Up to 14 people were loaded into this van, it was hermetically sealed and by the time the van arrived at Birkenau, its passengers were gassed to death.

Testimony of George Goiny-Grabowski (APMAB, Collection "Statements", vol. 61, p. 167):

As the Russian front approached Auschwitz, a police Einsatzkommando arrived, whose members wore uniforms with green cuffs. Among their vehicles were two gas vans, which I had an opportunity to examine in detail. The exhaust gases could be led into the box [of the van which was] filled with condemned people... The gas vans had an image showing a human head with a hand holding its nose.

Testimony of Kazimierz Czyzewski (Höß Trial, vol. 35, p. 163):

Hitlerite civilian special courts. They arrived every 14 days and tried hundreds of civilians in this Block 11. After the verdict, these people were driven into a hermetically sealed yellow van. Up to 50 people fit into it - the SS driver drove them to the crematorium (the prisoners did not know where they were going), and in this van the people were gassed, the corpses were thrown out and cremated.

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