Archive/File: people/i/irving.david/libel.suit/transcripts/day009.10 Last-Modified: 2000/07/20 MR JUSTICE GRAY: But would investigating to find if there are any mass graves at Auschwitz cast light on the problem we have here, which is whether there were gas chambers because, as I understand it, if you have gas chambers and you have crematoria, you are not going to need mass graves. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why they were built in the first place. MR IRVING: My Lord, if I may interrupt your Lordship, the victims of these mass liquidations, like the liquidation of the Hungarians in the spring of 1944, as I understand it, alleged to have been partly cremated in the equipment we see here and partly cremated in open burning pits or, alternatively, buried for a time and then dug up again and . P-84 cremated subsequently. These alleged sites, would it be correct to say, Professor van Pelt, cannot be identified on any aerial photographs or have not been identified on any aerial photographers, large pits or mass graves? A. I do not think that the right analysis has been done on air photographs. Certainly when you go to the site, when you go to what is called the field of ashes, you walk through it, you see it, you see the remains of large burning pits. So, I mean, and I can testify with some knowledge, I have been at that site and I have seen the remains of these enormous burning pits, and I have picked up remains at the site. Q. What kind of remains? A. Of burnt bodies. Q. Of bodies? A. Yes. I mean, I have picked up burned bones which, obviously, have in some way been reduced to ashes. This was in 1990. I went there with Mr Pressec. Mr Pressec showed me the site. We spent a lot of time at the site. I have been there many times since. Q. Of course, when you operate a crematorium, they do not reduce the cadavers to pure ash, do they? They do generate bone as well as ash? Not many people know this, but they generate large lumps of bone which have to be pulverized or milled down? A. Yes. . P-85 Q. Was there a bone mill attached to these crematoria? A. No. The sonderkommando, they give in detail accounts of how they had to take out the parts of the body that were not reduced to ashes, and with either wooden or metal implements crushing them into pulp. Q. These might very well be the remains that you found in the field of ashes? A. The field of ashes is quite far away from the crematorium. I think it would have been very unlikely that people would have carried those things from the crematorium to the field of ashes. One of the problems is that there is a barbed wired fence in between the two places. There is also a very deep ditch between the places, and that would have been very unusual. Also, the pits themselves are visible. You see in the landscape actually that there is a cavity there. Q. So what did they actually do with these remains, the bone fragments that came out of the crematoria that had been pulverized by the sonderkommandos? There must have been very substantial quantities, tonnes and tonnes of them? A. All the ashes -- again there was an exception to this general account I am going to give me now, but in general the ashes and the crushed bones were combined, and at regular intervals with a truck were brought to the Vistula River which is very close by. Actually, it is visible on the photos and it was dumped in the river. . P-86 The exception is that at certain times the truck broke down, especially in the Hungarian action, that this was impossible to do; and then there have been occasions in which the ashes were actually dumped in one particular pond near crematorium (iv). The other exception, and this is on the basis of eyewitness testimony -- again no documents -- is that in the winter sometimes the ashes were used to actually throw on the iced roads in the camp in order to make them more convenient for everyone. Q. What is the evidence for that rather lurid story? A. This is the evidence, eyewitness testimony, for example, of Mr Bacon who testified in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Q. He is, presumably, Jewish, therefore? A. Yes. Q. I am not suggesting that it makes him in any way unreliable, of course, but I am suggesting that possibly he may have derived advantage from giving that kind of testimony in Jerusalem in the Eichmann trial. MR JUSTICE GRAY: Can I ask a related question which I should have gathered the answer to but I do not know? Sonderkommando, were they all in inmates who were, as it were, put to work? MR IRVING: I was going to come to that, my Lord. I was going to ask for identity of ---- . P-87 MR JUSTICE GRAY: Were you? Can I not ask the question now just so I know the answer? MR IRVING: Yes. A. The sonderkommando were prisoners, people selected either on arrival or maybe sometimes a little later from the general prisoner population, who were going to work in the crematoria. They were housed either in the crematoria, especially from '44 onwards, but originally also in the men's camp in a special kind of barrack which was isolated from the other barracks with their own courtyard, and these inmates, 1944, when four crematoria were in operation and a group of 800 inmates, so roughly 200 per crematorium, working in two shifts of 12 hours each, so it would be 100 people at any crematorium at any time, operated the crematoria and were, again on the basis of eyewitness testimony, at regular intervals these groups were renewed after sometime. Q. That is a very complete answer. Would there be anyone who could be described as a sonderkommando who was, in fact, a Nazi camp official? A. No. MR JUSTICE GRAY: Thank you. MR IRVING: These sonderkommandos were all people who had been previously very endangered, of course, they were potential victims, and the story is that, as you hinted at the end, they were recycled, they were fed into the furnaces with . P-88 their -- have I understood correctly what your innuendo was -- at the end of their period of usefulness they were disposed of? A. Yes, I would just like to ask you, you used the word "previously", what you exactly ---- Q. Were they previously endangered? In other words, were they people who might otherwise have been exterminated, but they were given the option, "Do this job and you, like Scheherizada, you will continue to survive for a while"? A. No. Actually, you know, I thank God every day I was never in Auschwitz, but, given the choice, if I was in the man's camp and given the opportunity to get the job of sonderkommando, I would have tried to get out of it with any, whatever possibility because it was a very dangerous job. Q. It was a kind of trustee, what we would call a trustee in prison? A. No, it is not at all, Mr Irving. A sonderkommando was a -- I mean, people knew what was happening in the crematoria. At a certain moment -- I mean, a recent book has been published by a research of the Avwaschen(?). "We cried without tears" is the title, which is a quote from one of the sonderkommando. This man has systematically started to interview surviving sonderkommandos. In all these accounts you see that people were appointed sonderkommandos without asked if they wanted to do this, . P-89 and that many of them realized it was a sentence of death. Q. Because? A. And tried to get out of it. Q. Because? A. Because they knew that the reason they were appointed as sonderkommandos, or they were selected as sonderkommandos, was because the group which had been sonderkommandos before had been eliminated. MR JUSTICE GRAY: Yes, but why did they eliminate them? Because they were able to bear witness? A. Because they were able to bear witness and, yes, you do not want -- and also, I do not know, I do not know what happens, you know, we talk about Stockholm syndromes, and so on. I do not know at a certain moment what happens exactly between the SS and the sonderkommandos in the crematoria but probably. MR IRVING: A kind of symbiosis? A. What kind of symbiosis did emerge within at a moment these communities which formed themselves in the crematoria. Q. So we can be specific about what we are talking about here, call a spade a spade, would it be right to say that a large number of these sonderkommando members were Jewish themselves? A. By definition, they were Jewish. Q. By definition, they were all Jewish? A. Yes. . P-90 Q. I did not appreciate that. So, in other words, all these eyewitnesses who were sonderkommandos were Jewish, the ones who are telling these appalling accounts of what they saw? A. Yes. If they are Jews and they have survived to bear witness, then these are Jews who bear witness, yes. Q. They have done these horrible things. They have taken part in this appalling crime committed by the Nazis. They have been a participant in it, and this must have been a traumatic experience for them? A. Primo Laffi(?) has written a masterful essay on the traumas of the sonderkommandos in the book which he just published before he died. Yes, this was a very traumatic experience. Q. And how can they live with their sense of guilt or shame, do you think? How would they try to resolve that in the years of their retirement, if they survived, as a large number, apparently, did? A. I would refer you to Primo Laffi's ---- Q. Yes. You appreciate the point I am trying to make, that there may be a tendency to romanticize, a tendency to pass the burden of guilt, a tendency to -- would you agree that that is so? A. I am not a psychologist and I am not a chemist, so I can only at a certain moment state that, as an historian, as an historian, I am amazed by the way surviving . P-91 sonderkommando in different ways have been able to live up to their historical responsibility to bear detailed witness to what happened. Q. Can we just be quite plain what we agree their tasks were, and then we can find out where we diverge? Their task was, basically, to handle the cadavers, the corpses, inside the crematorium, to rob them of the gold teeth and other precious artifacts, to cut off the hair and to feed the bodies into the furnaces? A. No. I would like to be more precise than that. The sonderkommandos had very, very particular, very circumscribed tasks. There were, for example, sonderkommandos who only were running, basically, the household of the place where they were living. They did the "Stubendienst", it was called. There were in every barrack or, in this case, in the attic of the crematoria (ii), (iii) and (iv) they were four stuben [German spoken] and so on. These people were the sonderkommando ---- Q. Actually in the building? A. In the building. They lived in the building. Q. With their own shower rooms and bathrooms and sleeping quarters? A. Yes, they had beds. They were quite comfortable because they could make use of stuff which was left behind in the undressing room. So there were people in the . P-92 sonderkommandos who, in that sense, I mean -- I do not want to imagine what it is to live above the crematorium -- who actually were not involved in the operation of either of the gas chambers or the crematorium. Q. They must have witnessed appalling scenes day after day? A. They witnessed it and they heard about it from the other sonderkommandos when they came home, so to speak, upstairs. Q. And their less fortunate friends could say, "You are helping the Nazis with their Devil's deed"? A. I have no idea what they could or could not say. I am not going to speculate on what they said. Let me -- may I finish the tasks of sonderkommandos?
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