Sunday, October 28, 2018

SK Lange and Mattogno's Italian Book on the Einsatzgruppen

Author: Hans Metzner
A few days ago, Germar Rudolf indiscreetly revealed on the Holocaust Handbooks site that he has "submitted a long list of open issues -- including remarks made by the HC blog" to Carlo Mattogno for review for an already translated and edited, but not yet published English edition of his Einsatzgruppen book. I don't want to miss the opportunity to add to this list his (mis)treatment of Sonderkommando Lange, if it's not yet on it. I have already blogged extensively on SK Lange, but I will again roll out some of it in this posting specifically to address Mattogno's Italian edition of his Einsatzgruppen book.

Scrolling through the footnotes (Mattogno, Gli Einsatzgruppen nei territori orientali occupati, parte I, p. 279 - 286), it strikes one right away that his knowledge of literature is marginal, his use of documents selective and his study of testimonial evidence virtually non-existent.

His main source is the more than 30 years old article by Beer, Die Entwicklung der Gaswagen beim Mord an den Juden (1987). He does not use in this context or know of the more recent works specifically on the killing of mentally ill people and SK Lange, like 
  • Rieß, Die Anfänge der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens in Danzig und Wartheland 1939/40 (1995)
  • Alberti, Die Verfolgung und Vernichtung der Juden im Reichsgau Warthegau 1939-1945 (2006)
  • Topp et al., Die Provinz Ostpreußen und die nationalsozialistische "Euthanasie" SS-"Aktion Lange" und "Aktion T4", Medizinhistorisches Journal, 43 (2008) 
  • Montague, Chelmno and the Holocaust (2012)  [only cited later on]
  • Leidinger, Das Schicksal der polnischen Psychiatrie unter deutscher Besatzung im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Psychatrische Praxis, 41 (2014)
  • Schwanke, Die Landesheil- und Pflegeanstalt Tiegenhof (2015)
Mattogno pours in some snippets from Gerlach's Kalkulierte Morde and Longerich's Holocaust - not exactly specialist literature on the subject - and some British intercepts of radio signals. But this does not change the overall picture that he is mainly stuck in the 80s, both in terms of literature knowledge and his method, that does not seem to have advanced since then.

His limited knowledge of sources combined with his usual double standards, systematic misinterpretation, destructive approach of dismissing evidence for no real reason without offering any own narrative seems to provide him with the false certainty that he has somehow neutralised the momentum of SK Lange on gas vans and the Holocaust. 

On 18 October 1940, the Higher SS and Police Leader of the Warthegau Wilhelm Koppe wrote to his counterpart in Königsberg that "the so called Sonderkommando Lange...was ordered to Soldau in East Prussia from 21 May to 8 June 1940, according to the agreement made with the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, and during that time evacuated 1,558 patients from the Soldau transit camp". In a later letter to Himmler's staff of 22 February 1941, Koppe speaks of having taken over "1,558 burdensome persons for the purpose of placing them somewhere else" and of "transportation costs and other expenses for each person to be transferred" (see documents 2, 4 and 5 here).

On these documents, Mattogno argues that "evacuated" is not an euphemism for killing because other terms "refer to a real transfer" (p. 285: "M. Beer presuppone dunque, anche se non lo dichiara esplicitamente, che questa corrispondenza si basasse su un presunto "linguaggio cifrato” in cui la “Evakuierung” era un “eufemismo" che significava l'uccisione...Tuttavia la lettera menzionata sopra parla esplicitamente di 'alloggiare altrove' e di 'costi di trasporto', locuzioni che rimandano ad un trasferimento reale").

Illogic!

If the term evacuation was an euphemism for killing, which is what Mattogno wants to refute, then so would be "placing somewhere else" and "transferred" (the extermination did require "transport costs", so this is not necessarily, but possible an euphemism). The phrases do not indicate a "real transfer" any more than "evacuation" does. There are no further details offered in the correspondence to support the claim that any genuine transport out of Soldau took place, like actual transport means, routes, destination, handover etc. 

Koppe's staff even refrained from using the default cover up story of evacuation to the Generalgouvernement. Instead they came up only with the unspecific "placing them somewhere else", which could mean anything from lodging in a five star hotel in Berlin to burying in the nearest forest.

Lacking internal confirmation of "a real transfer" in the documents, the way to rule out the use of euphemisms would be to use external evidence showing that those 1,558 patients were transferred from Soldau and accommodated elsewhere (alive!). Such evidence does not exist though. 

Mattogno goes on to cite several documents that show Soldau was a transit camp for Jews and Poles, and concludes that "the transit camp was real, like the evacuations, and is part of a real historical context" (p.286: "Dunque il campo di transito era reale, al pari delle evacuazioni, e si inquadra in un contesto storico reale").

There is no doubt that Soldau was also a transit camp, but this does not settle the issue of what happened to the mentally ill people, does not rule out that they were exterminated and does not establish that this killing was not camouflaged as "evacuation" in the correspondence. The fact that Soldau was a transit camp would only add some probability to "a real transfer" of the mentally ill patients, if the evidence to the contrary were lacking (see below). 

Mattogno himself cites documents that indicate that Soldau was also a killing site. One document states that two Poles had been shot on 14.9.41 in the camp, another explains that "arbitrary shootings were carried out" in Soldau. Transit camp to heaven, perhaps?

But a lot more is ignored by Mattogno:
  • The Koppe correspondence is marked as "Secret State Affair". There was nothing severely secret about transferring mentally ill people, which was the cover story anyway.
  • On Koppe's letter to Himmler's staff, they wrote "urgent! telephone conversation with Obf. Brack". Brack was in charge of the Euthanasia.
  • Another doc in the same file states that "the Reichsführer-SS has placed particular emphasis on the care of these men [of SK Lange] assigned to this burdensome task". Transporting mentally ill patient might not have been fun for the Gestapo, but "burdensome task", seriously?

    (One may also wonder why the deportation of mentally ill patients was not rather a job for paramedics, asylum staff and the ordinary police, but for members of the Security Police and Security Service)
  • A file on SS investigations on misconduct in Soldau contains contemporary interrogations dated June 1943 of Otto Rasch, inspector of the Security Police in Königsberg in 1940 and his adjutant Horst Schlegel (documents 11 and 12 here).

    According to Schlegel, Heydrich "agreed with the liquidation of these persons [members of the Polish intelligentsia] in the camp of Soldau." Also interesting, "for the sake of camouflaging, the Poles in question had to sign a declaration of the content that they agreed with their deportation to the Generalgouvernement", i.e. the killing of people in Soldau was to be systematically camouflaged as evacuation to the Generalgouverment.

    Rasch added: "I had established the Soldau transit camp especially for the purpose of carrying out unostentatiously the necessary liquidations".

    And the most juicy part from Schlegel:
    "The mentally ill prisoners, who had been sent on special order, were liquidated by a special Kommando of the Inspekteur of Posen, under the constant supervision of SS-Obergruppenführer Redies. In my opinion, around 600 prisoners died and were liquidated in the camp. Excluded from this are the mentally ill prisoners."
    And Rasch again: "...insane persons were transferred to the camp on special order and shot".
Thus, Soldau was not only a "transit camp", but it was also an extermination camp for Poles and mentally ill people. In fact, the transit camp was an excellent smoke screen to cover the liquidations (so well that it fools certain persons like Mattogno still today). Those "1,558 burdensome persons" were exterminated by SK Lange according to contemporary Nazi sources.

Towards West-German investigators, Koppe admitted that Sonderkommando Lange was killing people, but denied he had anything operational to do with it (interrogation of 2 February 1960, BArch B 162/3243, p. 138 etc). Since his involvement already follows from the correspondence well known at the time, this would have been an awfully bad defense strategy, if there was nothing sinister with SK Lange in the first place. If Lange did nothing bad, Koppe's defence should have been able to find enough people, who could have confirmed that Lange's work just was to drive around mentally ill patients - instead of denying what is suggested by contemporary documents. Of course, witnesses, who observed Lange's team at work, guessed or knew there was something fishy when members of a secret service packed mentally ill patients into a closed box with strange pipes running under the chassis.

Some denier might say now: okay, so SK Lange killed mentally ill people, still no big H.

Well, the problem for deniers is just starting here. Why would the Security Police in East-Prussia hire a special commando from Posen to kill mentally ill people in a camp that secretely liquidated Polish prisoners anyway?  Lange had to employ a special killing method suitable for victims, who were otherwise too much of a burden for executioners usually only shooting men fit for military service. 

This is also evident from radio signals of the German paramilitary forces intercepted by the British (see documents 6 - 10 here): 
  • the Higher SS and Police Leader Center requested Lange's special commando all the way from Posen to Baranavichy (some 600 km) "to get a personal demonstration of L's procedure".
  • the Wehrmacht High Command requested "to sent Sonderkommando Lange with suitable repair [recte: apparatus] for the clearing of three of their asylums near Novgorod" in Russia (about 1,200 km from Posen)
It stands to reason that von dem Bach-Zelewski and the army did not call for Lange to shoot people, which was the default killing technique in the East anyway. 

Likewise, Rasch's statement that the mentally ill patients were shot in Soldau is questionable, since this would have not required a team from the Gestapo Posen. He apparently meant to obfuscate the actual killing method, which was nothing that the SS investigators had to know for this case.

According to testimonial evidence, SK Lange employed mobile gas chambers to kill its victims in the Warthegau. They used gas bottles injecting carbon monoxide, as it was done during the Euthanasia in the Reich with stationary gas chambers (see also Contemporary German Documents on Carbon Monoxide Gas and Bottles Employed for the Nazi Euthanasia). The gas van consisted of a tractor pulling a closed trailor with the inscription "Kaiser's Kaffee Geschäft" at the sides.

Side note: Mattogno trumps up the idea on the Kaiser's Kaffee Geschäft inscription that "la denominazione in questione fosse la deformazione di 'LC-Koffer'". (p. 280). Perhaps he misunderstood the German historian Christian Gerlach, who mentioned LC-Koffer in a footnote on gas vans, however, in a different context. Or perhaps it came just off the top of his head. In any case, there is neither any evidence nor any reason nor any sense that "Kaiser's Kaffee Geschäft" was a "deformation of LC-Koffer". The term has been clearly described by multiple witnesses as written on a vehicle of Sonderkommando Lange. It's already far-fetched to assume that these were even aware of the military vehicles with "LC-Koffer". 

Another side note: The organizational affiliations of Sonderkommando Lange are not that complicated. The commando was mainly recruited from members of Stapo Posen. Its headquarters was at the Stapo Posen. The commando was supervised by the inspector of the Security Police in Posen. It was only sent to Soldau for 17 days in 1940. That's some basic stuff. And yet Mattogno gets it totally wrong and claims that in 1941 "Soldau (current Dzialdowo) [was] the presumed operational headquarters of the Sonderkommando Lange" (p.283: "L'impiego del "Kaisers-Kaffee"-Wagen appare anzi decisamente insensato, perché tra Soldau (attuale Dzialdowo), la presunta sede operativa del Sonderkommando Lange, e Novgorod cisono oltre 900 km in linea d'aria...") (on his argument that one would not have sent a gas van to Novgorod, see corresponding section here).

The next problem for Holocaust denial is that Lange did not stop after clearing mental asylums, but went on to "visit" with his gas van(s) Jewish communities in the Warthegau. Then they realized it makes much more sense that instead of stirring up the whole Warthegau with his bloody business to settle down somewhere and bring the Jewish victims (and some Sinti and Roma) to him. This place was Kulmhof (Chelmno) and the extermination camp killed some 100,000 unfit Jews until Summer 1942 with gas vans (now running on engine exhaust) (see documents and other evidence here). At the top of it, Kulmhof was also the breeding ground and experimental lab for Aktion 1005, the Nazis' systematic destruction of their extermination sites (on this subject, see also Once More, With Feeling: Deniers And Aktion 1005, 10 Years Later). 

The operation of Kulmhof extermination camp says volumes about the extermination policy, mass killing technique and reliability of evidence and its historiographic evaluation - and in turn also about the flaws of Holocaust denial. The reality of other National Socialistic extermination camps and gas vans operating among the Einsatzgruppen in the occupied East is then only a mere formality and an inevitable consequence. In this sense, tipping the "domino" SK Lange rapidly tears down Mattogno's entire card house of denial.

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