The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 2000/07/20

   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  Yes.  That is one category, the ones who were
        doing the housework?
   A.   Yes, so, basically, the sonderkommandos who are in the
        Stubendienst.  Then there are sonderkommandos who had to
        supervise the undressing of the victims.  This was again a
        very particular task.
   MR IRVING:  Of the living victims?
   A.   Of the people who came to the undressing room.  These were
        the people who had to maintain some kind of order in the
        undressing room, who had to help people with the
        undressing and they also had to gather the clothing, take
        care, of course, that pairs of shoes remain together and
        things like that, because if you have a mountain of shoes

.          P-93

        and they are all, you know, they are not tied together, it
        is going to be not very useful for the people back home in
   Q.   This is from their eyewitness evidence, right?
   A.   This is from eyewitness evidence, yes.  We do not have any
        German document outlining the specific responsibilities of
   Q.   I have to keep on making that point quite plain.  We are
        relying entirely on their word of what happened?
   A.   The word of sonderkommandos and also of German officials.
        So we have sonderkommandos who work in the undressing room
        and that is their task.  Then there are sonderkommandos
        who work in the gas chamber which means actually bringing
        people, helping people, to go into the gas chamber and then ----
   Q.   Well, actually ramming them in, basically?
   A.   Whatever, in the beginning, that does not, when the doors
        initially open, one does not have to do that -- and who
        removed the corpses from the gas chamber and who clean the
        gas chamber afterwards.  That is a particular group of
                  Then there are sonderkommandos who operated the
        elevator which was the next -- in the case of crematorium
        (ii), we are now only talking about crematorium (ii)
        because in crematorium (iv) and (v) the sequence is

.          P-94

   Q.   While we are dealing with the elevator, did one man have
        to go into the elevator itself or was it operated from
   A.   It was operated from the outside.  We have the bills for
        the elevators.  We know what the elevators were able to
   Q.   We will come back to the elevators?
   A.   Yes.  So they operated the elevators which bring the
        corpses up to the incineration room.  Then there was group
        of sonderkommandos which are called the "dentists".
   Q.   Was the only access, while we are on the elevators,
        between the so-called gas chamber, which is this big
        building we see here, and the furnace room, this
        elevator?  Would they otherwise have to go outside around
        the outside of the building carrying corpses?
   A.   There were stairs going up, but there was no internal
        connection between the basement level and the incineration
        room or the main floor of the crematorium.
   Q.   Rather an inconvenient layout?
   A.   Yes, it was inconvenient.
   Q.   Totally lacked ----
   A.   But it seemed to have worked very well for the Germans.
   Q.   A totally lacking system?
   A.   The system worked well, and I think I have pointed out in
        my book (and Mr Pressec has done it in his book) that
        crematorium (ii) was originally not designed as an

.          P-95

        extermination plant, and so the Germans worked with what
        they had.
   Q.   Yes, but the Germans were constantly building new
        buildings, were they not, and you and I, we have probably
        never visited a slaughterhouse, I am glad to say -- am
        I right in suggesting you have not visited a
        slaughterhouse in your life?  I certainly have not.
   A.   No, I have only read about it.
   Q.   Will you take it from me that a slaughterhouse is built
        all on one level, all on ground level, so that there are
        no ups and downs for obvious reasons?
   A.   I cannot comment on it.  It would make a logical
        proposition, but I remember reading about the
        slaughterhouses in Chicago where actually things, the cows
        are moved through the air, but that is just a memory from
        a thing ----
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  Anyway, you say crematorium (ii) was not
        originally designed as a ----
   A.   Yes, and crematorium (iv) and (v) were and there
        everything is at the same level.
   Q.  --- killing chamber?
   MR IRVING:  The point I am making, my Lord, is if one is
        building a factory of death for a systematic killing of
        people and you are constantly erecting new buildings, it
        would not have been built in this extremely awkward way.
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  Yes, but this was conversion from another

.          P-96

        use.  That is what Professor van Pelt is saying.
   MR IRVING:  I think your Lordship appreciates the point I am
        trying to make
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  Yes, I do.
   THE WITNESS:  May I add to this that the Germans were not
        constantly building other buildings.  There was a general
        build stop in Germany from 1942 onwards.  In fact, very
        little construction was being done in Birkenhau.  The two
        crematoria (ii) and (iii), they are identical exactly for
        the reason that they could not get crematorium (iii) built
        any otherwise since the building (ii) had been approved
        for another site for ----
   Q.   Who applied the building stop?  Was this the four year
        plan or?
   A.   The general, as relative to what has happening in the war,
        the only buildings which could be constructed in Germany
        from 1942 onwards were really buildings for the
        Wehrmachts, I mean for the Army or the armed forces, and
        the SS did not count on that at that moment under that
        general umbrella.
   Q.   So the factory was destroyed; it was not rebuilt?
   A.   And then there were buildings which had been destroyed by
   Q.   Yes, so ----
   A.   That was the other thing, and the Behaltsheimer which
        means provisional housing for people, but, in general,

.          P-97

        there was a building stop.  One of the reasons there are
        so many documents in the Auschwitz archives was because
        every building was by its very nature an exception which
        had to be approved at many different levels.  So the SS
        had great difficulty to get anything built in Birkenhau or
        Auschwitz during the war.
   Q.   And they could not say, "Hey, we are carrying out the
        Fuhrer's orders here.  This is the annihilation of
        millions of Jews that the Fuhrer has personally ordered.
        We demand top priority.  This is the main plank of the
        national and socialist programme", is what you are saying?
   A.   What I would like to say is that probably bureaucracy
        works in the same way in Germany in 1943 as it works
        anywhere else.  If there is a general building stop --
        I would like to imagine the situation where an SS man
        comes with your story to an official of the building
        department and what this German official will say to this
   Q.   Well, normally, when people mention the Fuhrer's name,
        there will be a clicking of heels and "Ja Woll" and they
        would get that priority?
   A.   Mr Irving, if you had read my book carefully, you would
        have read in the book that at a certain moment there was a
        number of low ranking civilians in the Upper Silesian
        planning office who threatened to close the camp in late
        1942 because of building code violations.  This is one of

.          P-98

        the reasons that the sewage treatment plant was built.  So
        I think that the relation between bureaucrats at whatever
        level and at a certain moment the SS is a little bit more
        complex than you suggested.
   Q.   I think you are stretching the court's credulity if you
        suggest that a planning official in Upper Silesia could
        overrule the Fuhrer of the Greater German Reich and
        Heinreich Himmler in their dedicated desire, which we are
        constantly being told by the Defence, Hitler had ordered
        the systematic liquidation of the Jews, top priority, main
        purpose of the Nazi party, kill all the Jews, and you are
        telling us they could not get building priority?
   MR RAMPTON:  That is, my Lord, to misrepresent any question
        I have ever asked Mr Irving.
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  I was going to ----
   MR RAMPTON:  I never said anything about priority at all.
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  No.  Professor van Pelt, did you investigate,
        have you regarded it as part of your brief, as it were, to
        investigate the extent to which Hitler knew and authorized
        what was going on, you say, at Auschwitz?
   A.   No.  This has not been part of my brief.
   MR IRVING:  I appreciate what you are trying to say, my Lord,
        that I am wrong yet again.  I am familiar with ----
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  Mr Irving, I was not saying you were wrong;
        I was simply saying that this is something that Professor
        van Pelt says is outside his remit.

.          P-99

   MR IRVING:  I do apologise for the inference, my Lord, but, in
        fact, if you are an objective historian and you are
        looking at the files, as I have, for example, in a
        parallel programme, the German V weapons programme, the V1
        and the V2 rockets with which your Lordship is probably
        also brutally familiar during the war years.  I wrote a
        history of that project.  They ran into similar kinds of
        priority problems for scarce materials, and the Fuhrer's
        order that this programme would get a "DE" which was the
        highest stufe or priority, was marked on all the
        appropriate contracts.  "This is the Fuhrer programme, the
        Fuhrer's programme for construction of locomotives", and
        so on.  So you did not have to be a genius or specializing
        in Adolf Hitler personally to find traces of the priority
        attached to a programme very low down in the
        documentation.  The magic words would be uttered on the
        contracts and that would cut through the all red tape.
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  I was simply making the observation that you
        cannot really put to this witness the extent of Hitler's
        involvement in the Auschwitz programme, if there was one,
        because it is just not within his knowledge.
   MR IRVING:  With your Lordship's permission, I will now do
        precisely that.  (To the witness):  Professor van Pelt, on
        any of the documents you saw in the Auschwitz construction
        office, did you see any reference at all to a special
        priority being attached to this by Adolf Hitler?

.          P-100

   A.   No.
   Q.   Or to anybody between Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler?
   A.   No.
   Q.   There was no reference to Adolf Hitler on any of the
        document you saw in Auschwitz, in other words?
   A.   No.
   Q.   I am indebted to your Lordship for having prompted that
        line of enquiry.
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  That is a much better way of dealing with the
        point, if I may say so.
   MR IRVING:  My Lord, I am totally unversed in the art of
        cross-examination and I am learning as I go along.
   MR JUSTICE GRAY:  I think you are doing, as I said before, very well.
   MR IRVING:  Thank you very much.  (To the witness):  Coming
        back to the eyewitnesses, you have a number of
        eyewitnesses you referred to.  You mentioned German
        eyewitnesses of the activities of sonderkommandos.  Can
        you remember the names of any of these eyewitnesses?
        Would it be Perry Broad or someone like that?
   A.   Yes.
   Q.   So these eyewitnesses are people on whom, as the Germans
        say, you would take poison on them, you would go into the
        jungle with them; these are witnesses who you implicitly
        trust?  They have not lied to us?
   A.   To be very honest, I would not want to go into the jungle

.          P-101

        with either Mr Pery Broad or Mr Hirst.
   Q.   Or Mr Hirst or Mr Bendel or any of those people;  they are
        all rather ----
   A.   I would not want to trust them with my life, no.  But
        I must say that given ----
   Q.   Would you like just to expand on that?  What was wrong
        about these people then?
   A.   They were thoroughly unpleasant people and they were in
        charge of a very evil operation.
   Q.   Would you say that someone like Perry Broad or Mr Bendel,
        I think his name was, another of the eyewitnesses ----
   A.   Mr Bendel is not an SS man.
   Q.   Yes, but would you say they were lucky to survive very
        long after the war was over?  If you were an insurance
        company, you would not have been inclined to offer life
        policy on them?
   A.   I did not say that at all.  I think, as we know, many
        ex-Nazis made good careers in the various German states
        after the war.
   Q.   If they survived ----
   A.   One of them actually became a State Secretary to
        Mr Ardenal, so...

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