The Ball Challenge: Where is John Ball?

John Ball’s $100,000 Challenge:
Where is John Ball?
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One of the mainstays of the Holocaust revisionist hypothesis has been John Ball’s analysis of the aerial reconnaissance photographs taken over Auschwitz in 1944 and 1945. Ball purports to demonstrate two things in his analysis of these photographs: that the photographs prove that mass executions using poison gas did not occur at Auschwitz; and, that the aerial photographs were tampered with and altered before Dino Brugioni and Robert Poirier released their study of the photographs in 1979. John Ball is so confident of these claims that he has advertised a reward of $100,000 to anyone who can debunk them. As of the date of this writing, however, good faith efforts to take up Ball’s challenge have been altogether futile.

In some of his claims about what the photographs tell us, Ball sometimes betrays a surprising ignorance of the broadly accepted historical accounts which he aims to debunk. For instance, Ball notes that the area surrounding Auschwitz-Birkenau was being farmed in August 1944, and he expects his readers to draw the conclusion that the visibility of the camp to outside observers meant that mass murder could not have occurred in the camp.[1] Apparently, Ball does not know that the Auschwitz farms were within a much larger “Economic Zone” under the control of the SS and were worked with prisoner labour.[2]

Despite the inadequacy of his historical knowledge about Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ball can lay claim to some expertise as an aerial photography analyst, and his theory that the aerial photographs have been tampered with cannot be dismissed so lightly. Ball is apparently so convinced by his theory that in March or April 1997 he added a $100,000 reward to his web page as follows:

[IMAGE: “$100,000 Reward”]

To Have Three Air Photo Experts Agree That:
1. The 3D Maps are not accurate copies of the air photos; or
2. Marks were not drawn on August 25, 1944 Auschwitz air photos, as shown in Evidence of Air Photo Tampering.

NOTE: Each expert has to submit a written report with conclusions. The three experts each need to state that one of the above two statements are true. The air photo expert’s qualifications need approval by those seeking the reward, and by the author.[3]

Thefirstclaim does not require the services of expensive experts. The 3D rendering of the Treblinka photographs, for instance, shows the death camp area extending to the outer perimeter of the camp even though there was a strip of barren land between the inner and outer perimeters affording a full view of the perimeter to the guard towers.[4] The September 1944 photograph shows most clearly evidence of massive soil disturbances in the area of the death camp and mass graves, and no evidence of soil disturbance in the perimeter strip. The outline of the earth wall raised around the death camp area is plainly visible in the September photograph as an area of compacted soil.[5]

The second claim is the more interesting of the two, since any tampering with the aerial photographs would be the first material evidence offered by Holocaust revisionists of a high level conspiracy to hide the truth about the Holocaust.

On the face of it, it seems absurd to suppose that in 1978, “a group conspired to alter official government documents to defraud governments, and manipulate public opinion, to accept only one interpretation of World War II detention camp history.”[6] The group is unnamed and their motives not specified, and one is left to wonder whether Ball means that the CIA felt it necessary to bolster the Holocaust story to protect Israeli interests. Since Holocaust revisionism had not yet gained the public attention it enjoys today, one also wonders in what way the Holocaust story needed to be bolstered.

Be that as it may, Ball’s challenge was given a great deal of play in the Usenet newsgroup alt.revisionism. Revisionists took the offer of reward as evidence of the strength of Ball’s clams. After some discussion with a group of Nizkor Project volunteers, I sent John Ball a letter by registered mail [page not ready] on April 1, 1997 requesting clarification of the terms of his offer of reward.

We were particularly interested in the credentials Ball expected of an “air photo expert,” and we also wished to see some show of good faith that the $100,000 reward could actually be paid. As one might expect, the expenses associated with commissioning three separate reports could be considerable, not to mention the travel and accommodation expenses for three experts while they worked on the original photographs in the US National Archives in Washington, DC.

The letter was returned [page not ready] by Canada Post a few weeks later marked as “Unclaimed.” Canada Post also noted that a pick-up card was placed in Ball’s post office box on April 12, 1997 and that they returned the letter a week later on April 19,1997.

Two copies of a second letter were sent on May 10, 1997, one to Ball’s home address as listed by the Internet Yellow Pages, and one to the post office box advertised on Ball’s web page.

In addition, I sent an e-mail message [page not ready] to the address advertised on the web page advising Ball that the letters had been sent.

In the second and third letters, the requests for clarification were reiterated, and Ball’s challenge was tentatively accepted on condition that some agreement could be reached on three experts and some show of good faith was forthcoming. In addition, the name of an “aerial photo expert” was offered as our first nominee.

No reply to the e-mail was ever received, and the letter sent to the supposed home address was returned by Canada Post marked “Moved, Address unknown [page not ready]. ”

More alarmingly, the third letter, sent to the advertised post office box, was returned June 10, 1997 marked by Canada Post as ” Moved, Address unknown [page not ready].”

However one might speculate on the reasons for Ball’s failure to respond, two and a half months seems to me to be more than enough time spent on fruitless attempts to garner any response at all. If John Ball is serious about his challenge, he should at least acknowledge the attempts to answer it. If he is not serious, then he ought to remove the challenge from his web page.

Instead, Ball refuses to answer any e-mail from myself or others [page not ready]. Perhaps we should allow for the possibility that Canada Post erred in marking the second letter to the advertised post office box ” Moved, Address unknown [page not ready].” Postal services do make mistakes, even on registered mail. But it seems as if John Ball has abandoned the post office box, even though it is still advertised on his web page. What is one to make of a challenge that cannot be accepted because its author cannot be contacted?

In the meantime, it is worth noting that one highly qualified analyst has already examined Ball’s claims and dismissed them. Well before Ball’s challenge was posted to his web page, Dr. Nevin Bryant, supervisor of cartographic and image processing applications at Caltech/NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, examined the photographs with digital enhancement techniques unavailable to Brugioni and Poirierin 1979, and apparently not used by Ball in any of his analyses. Dr. Bryant’s analysis proves that the photographs were not tampered with. [7]

Ball claims that the shadows of the gas induction ports on the roof of the Krema II gas chamber were drawn on the August 25, 1944 photograph. Bryant has shown that the shadows match other shadows in the photograph and that the positions of the shadows match the positions of four concrete objects seen in a late 1942 ground level photograph of the rear of the gas chamber. To my unpractised eye, the base of the shadows are slightly to the east of the centre roof beam, as I have previously speculated they should be based on far less clear copies of the photographs. Ball claims that the presence of suitably sized holes to the west of the centre beam on the surviving portion of the roof indicates that the holes were added after the capture of Birkenau. But in a private conversation with Robert-Jan VanPelt, I learned that the roof of the gas chamber lifted off of the centre beam and shifted to the west when the gas chamber was dynamited by the SS in January 1945. Ball himself unwittingly provides further corroborating evidence that the right number of holes are in the right places by offering ground level photos which make the position of the centre beam and the gas induction holes quite clear. [8]

Michael Shermer, who arranged for Nevin Bryant’s analysis, offered Ball the opportunity to answer Bryant well before the $100,000 ever appeared on Ball’s web page. Ball’s sole response seems to have been to issue his challenge. Certainly the web page itself has not been altered to acknowledge Bryant’s analysis any more than it has been altered to reflect Ball’s apparent unwillingness to accept, much less to acknowledge, our offer to take up his challenge. Naturally, we are led to question the genuineness of the $100,000 reward.

John Morris,
University of Alberta,
June 20, 1997.


1. See, for example, Ball’s Birkenau map [broken link].

2. See Danuta Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle: 1939-1945 (New York: Holt, 1990) 3, for a map of the Auschwitz “Interest Zone”; Deborah Dwork and Robert-Jan Van Pelt, Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present (New York: Norton, 1996) 191-196, and Irena Strzelecka “Women,” Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, ed. Y.Gutman and M. Berenbaum (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994) 406, for discussions of prisoner labour in the SS agricultural estates.

3. See John Ball’s website summary page [broken link].

4. See, for example, the Treblinka map in Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka (Bloomington:Indiana UP, 1987) 39.

5. Compare John Ball’s Treblinka map [broken link]with Arad’s op. cit.

For aerial photographs [broken link] of Treblinka, see John Ball’s website.

Aerial photography and reconnaissance are among the standard tools used by archaeologists to locate buried settlements. Depending on the climate and season, disturbed soil may show up as a darker area because disturbed soil is able to hold more water. Roads, building foundations, and other earthworks may show up as lighter areas since the soil will have been compacted and, thus, exclude water. In disturbed soil, the vegetation may also have a darker colour because it has more water. The September 1944 Treblinka photograph displays this pattern: the deathcamp and mass graves area is distinctly visible as an area with disturbed soil. The May 1944 photograph, on the other hand, shows none of this pattern of soil disturbance, but May is not only also a drier season in Poland, but the vegetation had not yet reestablished itself so soon after the closing of the camp.

6. Quoted from John Ball’s website conclusion page.

7. Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of our Time. (New York: Freeman, 1997) 233ff.

8. See Ball’s ground level photos. Since the gas chamber roof was supported by a thick concrete centre beam, Ball’s claim is nonsensical that the absence of induction holes directly over the centre beam proves that no gassing occurred at Birkenau: no one would weaken a major roof support by cutting through it for any reason.

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