The Techniques of Holocaust Denial: Friedrich Berg’s paper on diesel exhaust, with commentary 

Writer: Michael P. Stein

Below is the relevant section of Friedrich Berg‘s own paper in the Journal of Historical Review, plus extracts from one of his Usenet articles, interspersed with comments.

Oxygen in Diesel Exhaust

If the Jews were not murdered with carbon monoxide from Diesel exhaust, could they have died instead from the effects of reduced oxygen in Diesel exhaust? Such a theory would at least be consistent with the claim that the corpses were “blue.”

[Berg cites SS hygienist Dr. Wilhelm Pfannenstiel as one witness. However, he did not include in his paper Pfannenstiel’s explicit diagnosis of asphyxiation:

I noticed nothing special about the corpses, except that some of them showed a bluish puffiness about the face. But this is not surprising since they had died of asphyxiation.

While Berg pretends to explore this possibility, he rushes through it while ignoring significant factors – most notably Pfannenstiel’s testimony – which point strongly to a conclusion of death by asphyxiation. Omission of both Pfannenstiel’s explicit diagnosis and these other factors is deceptive.]


A bluish coloring to certain parts of a corpse is indeed a symptom of death from lack of oxygen. This theory, however, does not hold up very well because of the fact that Diesels always operate with excess air.

[That is how they are normally operated, if one wishes to run them to run a truck or a pump. This fact says nothing about how they could be operated if one wishes to kill people.]

[Graph captioned, “Figure 6: Exhaust gas constituents of internal combustion engines.22 The heavy vertical line at a fuel:air ratio of 0.055 has been added by the author.”

Normal air contains 21% oxygen. In Figure 6 we see that the oxygen concentration corresponding to idle in the exhaust of any Diesel (divided or undivided chamber), shown near the top of the chart at a fuel/air ratio of 0.01, is 18%, which is just a few per cent less than one finds in normal air. At full load, which corresponds to a fuel/air ratio of 0.055, the oxygen concentration in the exhaust of any Diesel is 4%.

[The graph only covers two diesels, not “any Diesel.” And, as will be seen below, the graph was generated from diesels “in proper mechanical condition.” Although he argues elsewhere that these are the worst numbers one finds in the Society of Automotive Engineers transactions, it should be noted that’s the worst one finds for any American diesel. The Nazis used Soviet diesels. (Technologies can converge within one nation and diverge between nations, as people are trained in the same schools.) And he should go to the primary source – the raw numbers which generate the graph. As will be shown below, the numbers tell a very different story.]

Probably the best discussion of the effects of reduced oxygen levels or asphyxia is provided by Henderson and Haggard:

SECOND STAGE. When the oxygen is diminished to values between 14 and 10 per cent the higher values of the brain are affected. Consciousness continues, but judgement becomes faulty. Severe injuries, such as burns, bruises and even broken bones, may cause no pain. Emotions, particularly ill temper and pugnacity, and less often hilarity, or an alteration of moods, are aroused with abnormal readiness….

THIRD STAGE. When the oxygen is diminished to values between 10 and 6 per cent, nausea and vomiting may appear. The subject loses the ability to perform any vigorous muscular movements, or even to move at all. Bewilderment and loss of consciousness follow, either with fainting or a rigid, glassy-eyed coma. If revived, the subject may have no recollection of this state, or an entirely erroneous belief as to what has happened. Up to this stage, or even in it, he may be wholly unaware that anything is wrong….

FOURTH STAGE. When the oxygen is diminished below 6 per cent, respiration consists of gasps separated by apneas of increasing duration. Convulsive movements may occur. Then the breathing stops, but the heart may continue to beat for a few minutes and then develop ventricular fibrillation, or stand still in extreme dilation.23

According to Haldane and Priestley, “air containing less than 9.5 per cent of oxygen would ordinarily cause disablement within half an hour.”24 Disablement is still not death.

[This makes it sound as if there’s no difference between 9.5% and 0%. With 0% oxygen, death – not disablement – comes in a few minutes. Berg is trying to confuse matters here.]

It is clear that there is no magic number below which death would occur, or above which life would continue. However, for any gas chamber relying upon reduced oxygen as the killing method, one would have to reduce the oxygen to below 9.5% – perhaps even below 6%.

[There is no magic number, true, but Berg’s argument is again misleading. What is really clear is that the lower the oxygen goes, the faster death comes. And O2 below 6% is feasible within Berg’s constraints. See below.]