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Filip Müller's Testimony
& Translation Comparisonss

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From: jmorris@gpu.srv.ualberta.ca (John Morris)
Date: Wed, 06 Mar 1996 09:01:02 GMT

Jean-Francois Beaulieu, "Ceacaa," and other Holocaust deniers have been making much of the discrepancies between the testimonies of Filip Mueller and other Sonderkommando survivors regarding the sheet metal induction columns for Zyklon B in Krema II at Birkenau. The sole discrepancy cited to date has been the claim that, while all other Sonderkommando survivors refer to the induction columns as being constructed out of sheetmetal or wire-mesh, Mueller wrote that the column was made of sheetmetal and inserted into a hollow concrete pillar. Since no evidence of hollow pillars is to be found in the ruins of Krema II, we are led to believe that Mueller is probably a liar and, from that conclusion, that there are serious enough discrepancies in the witness accounts about the material features of Krema II to cast doubt on all accounts of mass murder at Krema II.

All of the denier claims about Filip Mueller's recollections are predicated on one short passage in the French edition of Mueller's memoir, known in English as _Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chamber_.

Mueller's memoir was originally written in Czech or Slovakian and published in summary form in Czechoslovakia in 1946. This summary was later translated into English and published in _The Death Factory_ by O. Kraus and E. Kulka in 1966. The complete memoir was written after Mueller's testimony at the "Auschwitz Trial" before a German court in 1964, and it was first published in a German translation. While efforts are being made to find and translate the disputed passage in a Czechoslovakian edition, we may take its first published German version as definitive, since that is the version from which the French and English versions are derived.

The passage posted to alt.revisionism by M. Beaulieu has been retranslated into English, and it has formed the basis of the discussion so far. It reads

Des colonnes en beton se succedaient le long des murs lateraux: elles etaient creuses et servaient a deverser le zyclon-B que l'on jettait par des ouvertures amenagees dans leur partie superieure et qui communiquaient avec la chambre a gaz par des colones metalliques. Celles-ci etaient perforees a intervalles regulliers[..]

[Columns of concrete were lined up against the lateral walls; they were hollow, and used for pouring Zyclon-B which was thrown in through openings in their upper part, and which communicated with the gas chamber through metal columns. The latter had holes at regular intervals[...]]

So far as I can tell, the retranslation into English is accurate. Unfortunately for all of us, the French version bears only a passing resemblance to the original German text. As provided to me by Mr. Ulrich Roessler, it reads:

Als ich mit Kaminski und Jukl die Leichenkammer verlassen hatte, kamen wir zu einer massiven, eisenbeschlagenen Holz- tuer, die nicht verschlossen war. Der Raum, in den sie fuehrte, war in undurchdringliches Dunkel gehuellt. Als wir das Licht einschalteten, leuchteten an den Waenden Gluehbirnen auf, die von einem Drahtgeflecht umfasst waren. Vor uns lag ein etwa 250 Quadratmeter grosser Raum. Seine auffallend niedrige Decke und die Waende waren geweisst. Zwischen den Waenden der beiden Laengsseiten standen Betonsaeulen, welche die Decke abstuetzten. Wer glaubt, die Saeulen in diesem Raum wuerden nur diesem Zweck dienen, befand sich in einem Irrtum. Die Zyklon-B-Gas-Kristalle wurden naemlich durch Oeffnungen in der Betondecke eingeworfen, die in der Gaskammer in hohle Blechsaeulen einmuendeten. Diese waren in gleichmaessigen Abstaenden durchloechert und in ihrem Innern verlief von oben nach unten eine Spirale, um fuer eine moeglichst leichmaessige Verteilung der gekoernten Kristalle zu sorgen.

I have translated the passage into somewhat unidiomatic English as follows:

When I had left the mortuary with Kaminski and Jukl, we came to a massive, iron-mounted, wooden door that was not locked. The room into which it led was hidden by an impenetrable darkness. When we switched on the light, the lightbulbs, which were covered with wire cages, flashed on the walls. Before us lay a large room of about 250 square meters. Its remarkably low ceiling and the walls were whitewashed. Between the walls along the length of the room stood concrete columns which supported the ceiling. Whoever thought that the columns in this room would serve only this purpose would have been mistaken: the Zyklon B gas crystals were inserted through openings in the concrete ceiling to which were joined hollow sheet metal columns. These were perforated at regular gaps, and in their interior a spiral ran from top to bottom in order to make sure of as regular a distribution of the granular crystals as possible.

Even allowing for the slight ambiguity in the German text, the French translation is both too literal and too economical for its own good. A phrase like "der beiden Laengsseiten" could, if translated too-literally, be rendered as "against the lateral walls." But that would be to mistake the German idiom which would translate better as "along the length of the room" and would be more in accord with the physical remains of Krema II.

On the other hand, the drive for elegance and economy of expression has led the French translator to conflate two very distinct features in the description of the gas chamber: the concrete pillars and the sheet metal columns. Mueller does not say that the sheet metal columns are inside the concrete pillars, and he certainly does not say that the concrete pillars are perforated. Instead, he sees an opening in the ceiling to which is joined a perforated sheet metal column. The distinction which is ambiguous in the first instance ("Whoever thought. . .") is rendered unambiguous by the description of a separate set of columns.

It is interesting to note that the official English translator, Susanne Flatauer, has translated the passage entirely without ambiguity as the context certainly warrants:

Down the length of the room concrete pillars supported the ceiling. However, not all the pillars served this purpose: for there were others, too. The Zyclon [sic] B gas crystals were inserted through openings into hollow pillars which were made of sheet metal. These were perforated at regular intervals and inside them a spiral ran from the top to bottom in order to ensure as even a distribution of the granular crystals as possible.

Flatauer, who is obviously a more competent and idiomatic translator than I am, takes the clause "die Saeulen in diesem Raum wuerden nur diesem Zweck dienen" to mean "not all the pillars served this purpose" which, if not literally correct, is clearer and also accurate in the context of the whole passage.

An awful lot of words have passed back and forth on this issue and all of them predicated on a bad translation into French and retranslation into English. I sincerely hope that it will be obvious to all particpants in this discussion that the discrepancy between Mueller's account and the accounts of other survivors of the Sonderkommando is more apparent than real. I also hope that this information will lead to a better informed discussion, though experience has taught me that that is a fond hope.

The original plain text version of this file is available via ftp.

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