The Techniques of Holocaust Denial: Friedrich Berg & the Diesel Issue

Research: Holocaust Research Mailing List
Writer: Michael P. Stein

This article discusses the errors and deceptions contained in Friedrich Berg‘s “proof” [1] that it would be nearly impossible to use diesel exhaust to kill people as described by the witnesses to the Reinhard death camp gassings. The case is given in nontechnical terms, however, there is an appendix that reproduces the case with full details and references. for those who want to wade through the detailed technical arguments.

People are encouraged to read all the details. One thing “scientific” Holocaust deniers like Berg and Fred Leuchter count on is the fact that many non-scientists can’t follow scientific debates, and assume that if it is dressed up in scientific terms, it must be right. But there are many other scientific debates we see today – pollution, cancer, global warming, etc. – which enter into the political arena. Some of these arguments are made to support a hidden ideological agenda, and the science is dishonest. We hope that following the full argument will help people realize that just because something comes dressed up as “science” doesn’t mean you should stop thinking critically about what you’re being told.

Berg’s arguments boil down to the following:


  1. Diesel engines, unlike gasoline engines, do not produce large amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) under normal operation, and it is extremely difficult to get them to produce levels of CO sufficient to cause death within the time reported by the witnesses. 
  2. Eyewitnesses described the corpses from a diesel gassing as blue in color – but acute carbon monoxide poisoning victims are red. 
  3. Furthermore, the Germans had much better ways to produce carbon monoxide than diesel engines (the “producer gas” trucks and busses), so using diesels makes no sense.Therefore (reasons Berg), contrary to the assertion of historians, the victims were not killed by carbon monoxide.


  4. Diesel engines normally produce a fairly high proportion of oxygen in the exhaust, so people would not die of asphyxiation in the amount of time claimed by the witnesses. 
  5. Even if the above were not true, if execution were to be by asphyxiation, there was no sense in running the engine – it would have been sufficient to seal the victims in an airtight chamber, so pumping in exhaust for asphyxiation made no sense.Therefore (reasons Berg) they were not killed by asphyxiation either; the whole affair is a hoax.

There is a core of truth to all of the five points. Point (2) above is often true, though not always. However, as Berg failed to mention in his paper, the witness, SS hygienist Dr. Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, explicitly mentioned asphyxiation as the cause of death [2]. Point (1) is not so true as Berg believes, but given point (2), it is quite possibly irrelevant.

Berg relies heavily on “psychological” arguments such as points (3) and (5), the idea that the SS personnel in charge of the death camps would have done things in better ways if they had really wanted to kill people. For example, in Usenet alt.revisionism article [email protected], he wrote: “[Scott] Mullins should try to run a heavily-loaded 150 HP engine, that is still small, with a propeller or fan in a closed loop without making lots and lots of noise.”

Is Berg trying to argue that the Nazis wouldn’t have committed mass murder with diesels because they would have been too afraid of getting a ticket for violating noise ordinances?

In the same article, Berg also wrote, “Since the load of any fan or propeller varies non-linearly with RPM, it is still quite a trick to choose the right sized fan or propeller. Ivan with the big wrench won’t know how.”

Here Berg is actually arguing two contradictory things at once. If this had been done, “Ivan,” of course, wouldn’t have done it. It was the Nazis who created the system, not the Russians or Ukranians.The Russians just built the original engine. The Nazis would have modified it.

Is Berg saying the Nazis wouldn’t have known how to do this?

Is Berg saying the Germans had no competent engineers? On the otherhand, arguing that an unsophisticated “Ivan” was responsible for the idea and the modification damages points (3) and (5), that it wouldn’t have been done because it wasn’t a good idea technically.

An unsophisticated person would probably not realize that there’s anything wrong with using a diesel engine to generate carbon monoxide. This sort of self-contradictory argument is one advanced by a defense lawyer, not a scientist.

Did you know… that only one of the ‘Operation Reinhard’ death camps may have used a diesel engine? (At Belzec and Sobibor, petrol engines were used.)