The Techniques of Holocaust Denial: The Meaning of “Special Treatment” 

Writers: Jamie McCarthy and Ken McVay

In March 1994, Dan Gannon responded [1] to a series of ten questions which had been posted to the Usenet computer network over a period spanning nearly two years.

In his response to questions which asked about the description of Zyklon-B as material for the “resettlement” and “special treatment” of Jews, and about the meaning of the terms “special treatment” and “special action,” Mr. Gannon invoked the tired arguments of Holocaust denial.

We replied by asking Mr. Gannon if he meant to claim that the code words “special treatment,” “resettlement,” and so on were never used to camoflage Nazi intentions of mass murder. Further, we asked that he examine the evidence which we present here, and refute it on a point-by-point basis.

We think it’s clear that Mr. Gannon did make this claim, as evidenced by the following statement:

“Special treatment” (“Sonderbehandlung”) was not a “code word” and did not automatically mean “killing”. It meant a whole range of things… [2]

Mr. Gannon then cited two or three examples from various Holocaust deniers, who have catalogued obscure cases in which the code words meant something very different than what they normally did.

With this tactic, we believe Mr. Gannon sought to confuse his audience, instead of addressing the issue. Special cases are irrelevant, and have no impact on the chief meaning of these code words, which we will document here.

Mr. Gannon was asked to address cases which employed “special treatment” and other euphemisms with reference to the Nazi extermination effort.

These cases were enumerated as follows:


  1. “Special treatment was killing, everyone knew that,” says Eichmann. 
  2. To save lives, Kaltenbrunner directs that “special treatment is to be limited to a minimum.” 
  3. Special treatment is “elimination,” writes Heydrich. 
  4. A memo at the Reich Security Main Office explains “special treatment” by the annotation “execution.” 
  5. Special treatment should be carried out by hanging, says Himmler. 
  6. A report from the Russian front equates special treatment with “liquidation.” 
  7. “No meaning other than killing,” says former SS-Gruppenfu”rher Mazuw. 
  8. “Everyone knew what it meant,” says former SS-Obersturmfu”hrer Hamann. 
  9. A letter from Himmler to Korherr asks that the term “special treatment” not be used, as the meaning is too well known 
  10. An SS-Hauptsturmfu”hrer requests more gas vans for Jews to be “treated in a special way.” 
  11. A Gestapo memorandum requests that people “subject to special treatment” be cremated.

Here, we will deal specifically with the code word Sonderbehandlung, literally “special treatment” or “special handling.” This is probably encountered most often. Other code words include:

  • Umsiedlung, literally “resettlement”
  • Sonderaktion, literally “special action”
  • Evakuierung, literally “evacuation”
    and, of course,
  • die Endlösung der Judenfrage, literally “the final solution to the Jewish question.”

In his response, Mr. Gannon offered Kaltenbrunner’s comments about French diplomats as his reponse to the “special treatment” of European Jews — the mind boggles at this logical leap. He expected readers to swallow Faurisson’s assertion that the Nazis’ “special treatment” was to help keep the Jews alive. This is, obviously, contrary to fact. The Nazis used Jews and other as slave laborers, literally working them to death:

Starvation was a permanent guest at Auschwitz. The diet fed to I.G. Auschwitz inmates, which included the famous “Buna Soup” – a nutritional aid not available to other prisoners – resulted in an average weight loss for each individual of about six and a half to nine pounds a week.

At the end of a month, the change in the prisoner’s appearance was marked; at the end of two months, the inmates were not recognizable except as caricatures formed of skin, bones, and practically no flesh; after three months, they were either dead or so unfit for work that they were marked for release to the gas chambers at Birkenau. Two physicians who studied the effect of the I.G. diet on the inmates noticed that “the normally nourished prisoner at Buna could make up the deficiency by his own body for a period of three months….

The prisoners were condemned to burn up their own body weight while working and, providing no infections occurred, finally died of exhaustion.” [3]

Was this Mr. Gannon’s idea of behavior aimed at “keeping the Jews alive?”

Gannon’s sources for this nonsense were Robert Faurisson‘s essay “Response to a Paper Historian” and Carlos Porter‘s book Not Guilty at Nuremberg — they quote the same section of the Nuremberg Trial transcript in invoking Kaltenbrunner. The only other “proof” that Gannon indirectly quotes, apart from Kaltenbrunner’s testimony, is Faurisson’s assertion that Sonderbehandlung sometimes meant “transportation,” but Faurisson does not give proof — only a footnote to a previous Faurisson essay.