Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard. Chapter 6: Death Camp Witnesses (3). Treatment of Witness Testimony.

Treatment of Witness Testimony

In a section on the “Value of Eye Witness Testimonies,” Kues quotes Christopher Browning’s considerations on witnesses of the Reinhardt camps:
Once again, human memory is imperfect. The testimonies of both survivors and other witnesses to the events in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka are no more immune to forgetfulness, error, exaggeration, distortion, and repression than eyewitness accounts of other events in the past. They differ, for instance, on how long each gassing operation took, on the dimensions and capacity of the gas chambers, on the number of undressing barracks, and on the roles of particular individuals. Gerstein, citing Globocnik, claimed the camps used diesel motors, but witnesses who actually serviced the engines in Belzec and Sobibor (Reder and Fuchs) spoke of gasoline engines.[27] Once again, however, without exception all concur on the vital issue at dispute, namely that Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were death camps whose primary purpose was to kill in gas chambers through the carbon monoxide from engine exhaust,   and that the hundreds of thousands of corpses of Jews killed there were first buried and then later cremated.[28]

Putting aside Kues’ dishonest omission of one of his crucial points, Browning’s interpretation is a common-sense approach to the treatment of witness testimonies at the Reinhard camps. If witnesses generally concur with one another about the primary purpose and operation of the camps (extermination), then any divergences regarding relatively minute details (size of gas chambers, duration of gassings, number of graves) or items that they did not directly know (specifics of gassing operation, details on burial or cremations) are essentially irrelevant to the reality of the camps’ ultimate purpose. Those specific variations in testimony, as Browning notes, result from the basic shortcomings with all witnesses, who are forced to recall events years after their occurrence. This fact does not appear to be disputed by MGK, as Kues recognizes innocuous witness inaccuracies in testimony as a “truism.”[29]  
Foibles of witness recollections are commonly regarded as typical among judicial authorities as well. In their legal handbook, German experts Nack and Bender list several subjects by reliability as they are often recalled in witness statements. They write:
The reliability of recollection also depends on the kind of object that the informing person is to remember.
The sequence (with increasingly weaker recollection) is the following:
(1) Persons and their actions, especially towards and with the informing person
(2) The (mere) presence of objects, especially such that play a central part in the course of the action
(3) The number of persons participating, if it is smaller than 7
(4) The spatial conditions, especially insofar as they are important for the fitting-together of the actions
(5) The state of objects, especially insofar as important for the fitting-together of the actions
(6) The sequence of events
(7) Colors
(8) Magnitudes and quantities
(9) Sounds
(10) Duration
[From item 6 onward the reliability of recollection is especially diminished.] (Emphases in original)[30]

It is remarkable that the areas of testimony whose reliability is deemed “especially diminished” by legal authorities Nack and Bender are precisely the areas that MGK and other Revisionists most criticize; this simply highlights their flawed and disingenuous approach to witnesses.[31]
By recognizing the inevitability of witness mistakes in their testimony, Kues is forced to take on an odd position to support his Revisionist belief system. For Kues, who builds up mistakes made by witnesses to be “contradictions,” the clear consensus that exists among testimonies regarding the exterminations in the Reinhard camps is “in fact nothing but a mesh of contradictions, held together by mere belief.”[32] This is a clear rejection of Browning’s common sense statement that variances on small details among the witnesses do not refute the clear agreement in their account on the fate of the Jews deported to the camps.
Kues also raises another excuse in which to discredit Browning’s statement: the possibility of uncoerced false confessions and memories. It is important to note that, as with so many other areas, MGK avoid making any direct statements or propositions that camp witnesses recalled false memories, and perpetrators made false confessions without coercion. To support this open possibility, Kues cites one work (Gisli Gudjonsson) regarding the occurrence of false confessions in modern criminal cases.[33] What Kues cannot cite, and what is regarded as important among Gudjonsson, is a retraction of such a false confession by perpetrator witnesses and defendants.[34] Kues also leaves out Gudjonsson’s discussion of an empirical study for false confessions in Iceland (at an estimated rate of false confession per interrogation below 1%), which found that just 7% of all offences falsely confessed to were violent.[35] The Iceland study also found that the overwhelming majority of false confessors were under the age of 21.[36] None of this information supports Kues’ hope (never declared, but simply suggested) that hundreds of Nazi perpetrators and auxiliaries falsely confessed to extremely violent crimes across the globe for several decades, and the overwhelming majority of whom never bothered to retract them, in public or private.[37]
Another point that MGK fail to discuss is the research of previously mentioned psychologist Wagenaar, who was an expert witness for the defense in Demjanjuk’s trial in Israel. In an article penned with Jop Groeneweg on “The Memory of Concentration Camp Survivors,” Wagenaar analyzed the testimony regarding a Nazi labor camp (camp Erika in the Netherlands) from 78 witnesses.[38] Statements were originally recorded in the 1940s, and then given once again in the 1980s, with 15 witnesses providing evidence during both periods; Wagenaar compared the statements by witnesses in order to determine the amount of forgetfulness that affects camp survivors, and the distortion of memory over time. Wagenaar’s study of these later statements revealed both an accurate recollection of certain verifiable facts (punishment techniques, meals duration, roll call brutalities, the harsh treatment of Jewish prisoners), but also a lack of recollection on specific information.[39]
The specific information that was incorrectly remembered later on included dates of entry into Camp Erika[40], the names of camp officials[41], an infamous camp official’s appearance[42], the witnesses’ camp registration number[43], and the housing circumstances of Jewish prisoners.[44] Witnesses were also asked in the 1980s about maltreatment incidents they described in the 1940s, with all but one forgetting the experience until reminded of their statements.[45] Despite the witness mistakes on occasional details, Wagenaar writes:
There is no doubt that almost all witnesses remember Camp Erika in great detail, even after 40 years. The accounts of the conditions in the camp, the horrible treatment, the daily routine, the forced labour, the housing, the food, the main characters of the guards, are remarkably consistent.
Thus, the situation with the Camp Erika survivors closely parallels that of the Aktion Reinhard witnesses: there are subjects on which witnesses vary, but in crucial elements, they are consistent. Wagenaar then goes on to conclude about the reliability of Holocaust witnesses in general as time progresses:
The intensity of the emotion at the encoding of information is no guarantee for accurate eyewitness testimony after a long retention period. It is not only true that people can, as in the case of John Dean’s memory, make reconstructions in which the details are arranged to create a false impression. It is also possible that people completely lose access to such details. (…) The extreme situation of being victimized in a Nazi concentration camp does not create an exception to this rule. Does this mean that eyewitness testimony must be discounted in cases of Nazi crimes? The answer is no: there is no reason to distrust such testimony more than in other violent crimes. The degree of conflict between the testimonies in the De Rijke case is probably quite normal. But the extreme horrors of the concentration camp experiences do not dismiss the courts of their task to question the evidence critically.[46]
Wagenaar is correct to value witness testimony despite degrees of conflict on specific areas, which is accepted as normal within the historical and legal fields. When Graf looks to deny “any value at all” to postwar statements made by witnesses due to these normal errors and memory lapses that developed over time (specifically with perpetrator recognition), he does so unjustifiably.[47] Indeed, it is necessary for Graf’s Revisionist position that such testimony be devalued and dismissed, for if such testimony contains any validity, then the Revisionist case is bankrupt. In contrast, any hoaxing of witnesses and perpetrators would have led to a rigid and stringently consistent body of testimony. In such an instance, that is where one could legitimately suspect a coordination of testimony; such can be seen in noted defense attorney Max Steuer’s successful cross-examination of Kate Alterman in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire trial.[48]

[27] Kues cuts out this sentence from Browning’s paragraph. The point about witnesses for gasoline exhaust has never been addressed by MGK in their writings.
[28] Browning, Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution: Electronic Edition
[29] MGK, Sobibór, p.106.
[30] Bender and Nack, Tatsachenfeststellung vor Gericht), Randnummer 137.
[31] Such areas of dishonest criticism focus on the numbers of those gassed, both in a chamber and in a camp’s existence, the color of gassed corpses, the sounds of the victims, the length of a gassing, etc. Bender and Nack’s work clearly shows that these areas are not accurately recalled by witnesses.
[32] MGK, Sobibór, p.106.
[33] Gisli H. Gudjonsson, The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2003, pp.179-186; cited in MGK, Sobibór, p.106.
[34] Gudjonsson, Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions, pp.173, 198. 
[35] Ibid., pp.176-177. The majority of crimes falsely confessed to property offences (59%) and serious traffic violations (20%).
[36] Ibid. 64% of false confessors were under the age of 21.
[37] This is why Pfannenstiel’s private admission to revisionist Rassinier on the reality of homicidal gassings is so lethal to MGK’s belief.
[38] Willem A. Wagenaar and Jop Groeneweg, ‘The Memory of Concentration Camp Survivors,’ Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 4 (1990), pp.77-87.
[39] Ibid., p.80.
[40] Ibid., p.80. Witnesses who recalled their entry date in the 1940s overwhelmingly errored within a month of their actual entrance date. In the 1980s, the majority of witnesses were off by a month or more.
[41] Ibid., p.81. Excluding the name of De Rijke, who was spoken of in the 1940s but whose name had publicity in the 1980s for his trial, there was less than a 30% recall of other members of the camp staff.
[42] Ibid., p.83. Twenty said De Rijke wore a uniform, while 28 said he did not.
[43] Ibid. 16 of 30 witnesses recalled their correct registration number.
[44] Ibid. When the witnesses themselves recalled, they overwhelmingly choose tents, but when prompted through questioning, barracks were spoken of nearly half the time.
[45] Ibid., p.84.
[46] Wagenaar and Groeneweg, ‘The Memory of Concentration Camp Survivors,’ p.87.
[47] MGK, Sobibór, pp.52-53. Graf assumes that Schelvis has a similar position “without realizing it,” but this is manifestly not the case. 
[48] Tim Dare, The Counsel of Rogues? A Defence of the Standard Conception of the Lawyer’s Role. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2009, pp.16-17.

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