Friday, July 09, 2021

Review of Holocaust Handbooks Volume 26 – Santiago Alvarez, The Gas Vans

From December 1941, the Nazis deployed homicidal gas vans using gasoline engine exhaust for the extermination of the European Jews, the liquidation of mental asylums and clearing of prisons in the occupied Soviet Union. The mass killing technique was supposed to provide mental relief for the shooting squads and enable more discreet mass killing. The vans came with two types of chassis: 3 tons trucks of various makes as first series, and 5 tons trucks of the make Saurer as the second series. The Security Police distributed around 20 vehicles for use in occupied Eastern territories (Serbia, Poland and Soviet Union). Another gas van on a Ford chassis was operated by the Secret Field Police. About a quarter of Million people fell victim of these mobile gas chambers (according to Alfred Kokh and Pavel Polian (ed.), Denial of the Denial, or the Battle of Auschwitz, p. 142).

Their historical reality is established by numerous contemporary Nazi documents, contemporary accounts and reports of other origins, and several 100s of post-war testimonies, thereof mostly by former members of the Nazi paramilitary and military forces towards German criminal investigators (many examples cited in the blog series Rebuttal of Alvarez on Gas Vans).

A tough nut to crack it is for denial. With its shortage in talents, the allergy towards archives among most of their folks and its zero confidence to survive with the methods of history, a virtually impossible challenge for "Revisionism". Therefore, they had to stick to the next best plan: take the first available guy, e.g. the content manager of a website (Santiago Alvarez)*. Add a dusted, little appealing pamphlet by a French denier (Pierre Marais, Les Camions à gaz en question). Adjust format and style, clean passages not yet in maximum denial mode and let him flavour it with some new epic fails. With that, Holocaust Handbooks volume 26 was born.

To make the predictable story of the book short, Santiago Alvarez maintains that there is no evidence for gas vans. He also knows "there never were any stationary 'gas chambers'" either (cause some other deniers wrote "Holocaust Handbooks" about it). Since November 2015, the Holocaust Controversies blog has published detailed rebuttals of the book. More than five years later, there is still no reply to the arguments. Time to remind Alvarez of his own words (originally towards the gas van researcher Matthias Beer, who just did not want to play silly games with deniers): "Any decent researcher would have taken such critical inquiry as a reason to look into his own research again" (p.16). With this standard set, how to explain his utter silence over the years?

His critique of sources on the construction and operation of the Nazi homicidal gas vans consists of random assertions without solid technical background and historical context. For example, Alvarez claims that all Saurer trucks were running with Diesel. He raised this to a smoking gun against the authenticity of Nazi documents and eyewitness accounts. The fall is exceptionally high here, it is fake news. There was never any proof that all trucks on Saurer chassis were running with Diesel fuel. The chassis with gasoline engines were obtained from the Saurer factory in Suresnes near Paris. 
He argues that the combined oil-pressure brake mentioned for the Saurer in a highly incriminating letter of 16 May 1942 "makes no sense, technically speaking...nor is there a precedent for such a combination to my knowledge" (p.50). A glimpse into relevant literature shows that the brake system described by Becker was introduced in the 1930s in Germany, including for Saurer trucks. Can only be missed if one does not want to know.

At least there is consistency in his failure. He is not only ignorant on technical details; he does not know much about Nazi bureaucracy and witness statements either. A document in the RSHA files states that "the special vans manufactured by us are at this time in operation...use steel bottles with carbon monoxide". Alvarez is sure that "formally seen, almost everything about this letter is wrong" (p.297). As can be readily proven, everything about his analysis is wrong and, formally seen, everything about this carbon of the letter is correct.

Alvarez mentions (let aside addresses) only a tiny fraction of witnesses on homicidal gas vans. His main original contribution to the book are some comments on published judgements of post-war German trials (see also here, here and here). In a short moment of self-reflection, he admits that his work "is still far from complete" and that "any of this study’s conclusions must necessarily be considered provisional in character, and the discussion will remain open" (p.12). 
But if so, why did he not act with the appropriate profound humility and caution? On the contrary, he even scried that once a "critical researcher" looks through the archival testimonial evidence, he is "convinced that the discrepancies turn out to be even more glaring" (p. 253). Apart from that this would have been precisely his own job when publishing a monograph on the gas vans, it is always intriguing to learn about the preconvictions of those "critical researchers".

His explanation for not examining the bulk of the evidence (p. 12: "currently difficult, if not impossible, to access by critical researchers") is a far-fetched excuse. The West-German investigation records related to homicidal gas vans are readily accessible. He had simply no intention and motivation to examine the archival files. 
Alvarez ignores the linkage between the stationary Euthanasia gassings, the mobile Euthanasia gassings with carbon monoxide bottles in the Warthegau and the mobile gassings with engine exhaust developed for Soviet Union. In his discussion of the killing experiments in Mogilev, he mocks the well-established explosive experiment in Minsk (p. 216-217) and is not even aware of the film footage of the crucial experimental gassing in Mogilev leading to the implementation of gas vans with engine exhaust.
The author's double standard in favour of the Nazis is blatant obvious when Alvarez writes about "the revelation about Soviet gas vans" (p.109) citing by far much poorer evidence compared to what is available for the Nazi gas vans.

In conclusion, Alvarez did not to do his homework and refrained from looking into the available evidence with some technical and historical knowledge, genuine curiosity and an open mind. The work only highlights the lack of common sense and research of the author rather than problems with the Nazi homicidal gas vans. This book does not advance the subject in any way.

 * In Bradly Smith's "Smith's Report No. 195", February 2013, Alvarez describes himself as "Contents Manager", "Manager of the mutual CODOH & VHO/CHP web project", and "CODOH Webmaster".

Further Reading:

Rebuttal of Alvarez on Gas Vans
Part IX: The Just Memo
Mattogno, his Einsatzgruppen book and the Gas Vans
Part I: A Dilettante at Work
Sonderkommando Kulmhof in German Documents: Part II: The Extermination of 100,000 Jews 
Sonderkommando Lange in German Documents: Euthanasia 1940/41

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