Friday 13 January 2023

Reading about the German mass murder of the Jews

 March 1942, Jews from Lublin province deported to Belzec death camp.

I recommend three excellent books I just read about the German slaughter of the Jews. The first is D. D. Guttenplan's The Holocaust on Trial, a wonderfully written courtroom drama which is a dialogue on whether there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and on the nature of history. 

William Blake said Milton writing Paradise Lost was of the Devil's party without knowing it. A number of people have said Mr Guttenplan prefers David Irving to the defendant, Deborah Lipstadt or the expert witness Richard Evans. 

None of the three of them is likeable but David Irving steals every scene, except when the judge does. 

Mr Irving is a paradox, an exceptionally brilliant historian who wrote what the military historian Sir John Keegan called one of the two best books about the war, who was praised highly, though with important reservations about his reliability, by Hugh Trevor-Roper and AJP Taylor, but who distorted the record and was deliberately dishonest. This is a tautology, as dishonesty is always deliberate.

He lied to exculpate Hitler, but was he a holocaust denier?

On the balance of probabilities the court (Sir Charles Gray sitting without a jury) decided that he was. He said at the trial that he thought the Germans killed between one and two million Jews. 

The second book is by Laurence Rees on Auschwitz, not an academic book but the product of interviews Mr Rees (the senior BBC man who made probably the best ever documentary programme The Nazis, a Warning from History). 

A beautifully written, very gripping and horrifying book but why does it not have footnotes? 

Mr Rees is a journalist before he is an historian and the most memorable thing in the book is this.

“One image stuck in my mind from the moment I heard it described. It was of a ‘procession’ of empty baby carriages—property looted from the dead Jews—pushed out of Auschwitz in rows of five towards the railway station. The prisoner who witnessed the sight said that they took an hour to pass by.”

It is true that many eyewitness testimonies of the holocaust, as of other events, even ones that took place this week, are (sometimes very) inaccurate but there is a wealth of testimony by prisoners and Germans.

One witness who spoke to Mr Rees was an NCO in the SS, Oskar Groening, 'the accountant of Auschwitz', who kept a record of the money and valuables taken from the prisoners and helped himself to them. 

He spoke about his experience in Auschwitz not from remorse (like most or all of the other German witnesses he felt none) but to correct holocaust deniers. He had met one in his stamp collectors' club.
"I see it as my task, now at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened. And that's why I am here today. Because I want to tell those deniers: I have seen the crematoria, I have seen the burning pits—and I want you to believe me that these atrocities happened. I was there."

After watching children ill-treated Groening said he 

"was so filled by “doubt and outrage” that he went to his superior officer and told him: “It’s impossible, I can’t work here any more. If it is necessary to exterminate the Jews, then at least it should be done within a certain framework.” His superior officer calmly listened to Groening’s complaints, reminded him of the SS oath of allegiance he had sworn and said that he should “forget” any idea of leaving Auschwitz. But he also offered hope — of a kind. He told Groening that the “excesses” he saw that night were an “exception,” and that he himself agreed that members of the SS should not participate in such “sadistic” events."

As a result of the interview, Groening was put on trial as an accomplice to 300,000 murders, was convicted, sentenced to four years' imprisonment but died at the age of 96 shortly before he was to have gone to prison.

In addition to eyewitness statements, Mr. Rees has documentary evidence.

 mentions an intercepted German telegram discovered at the Public Records Office in London in 2000, containing the Germans’ own record of the numbers killed at the four 'Reinhard camps' up to the end of 1942: 1,274,155. 

24,773 at Majdanak (Lublin), 434,508 at Bełżec, 101,370 at Sobibór and 71,355 at Treblinka 'but that is obviously a typing error as in order to reach the total of 1,274,155 the number killed at Treblinca has to be 713,555'.

    12. OMX de OMQ                           1000                           89 ? ?
           State secret!   To the Reich Security Main Office, for
            the attention of SS Obersturmbannführer EICHMANNBERLIN [ missed...]
13/15. OLQ de OMQ                            1005                           83 234 250
           State secret!   To the commander of the Security Police,
            for the attention of SS Obersturmbannführer HEIMKRAKAU.
            Re: 14-day report Operation REINHARD. Reference: radiogram from there.
            Recorded arrivals until 31 December 42, L 12761, B 0, S 515, T 10335 totaling
            23611. Situation [ ... ] 31 December 42, L 24733, B 434508, S 101370,
            T 71355, totaling 1274166.
            SS and police leader of LublinHOEFLESturmbannführer.

Sobibor was not big: 400 by 600 metres or 440 by 660 yards

Finally I am rereading a work of genius, Hitler's Empire by Mark Marzower, which I read years ago, despite no interest then in the Second World War or in what a woman I know calls 'Hitler porn', because I loved his short book on the Balkans.

Mark Marzower relates how Alfred Rosenberg held a press conference on 18 November 1941, immediately after meeting first Hitler and then Himmler, in which he said,
"Some six million Jews still live in the East, and this question can only be solved by a biological extermination of the whole of Jewry in Europe. The Jewish Question will only be solved for Germany when the last Jew has left German territory, and it will only be solved for Europe when not a single Jew stands on the European continent as far as the Urals... And to this end, it is necessary to force them beyond the Urals or otherwise bring about their eradication."
Rosenberg, like the other defendants, denied at Nuremberg any knowledge of the holocaust. Still to my mind this settles the question of whether Hitler personally gave an order to eradicate the Jews, though I don't think the question of whether the order came from him or from Himmler is of primary importance, except to people who are seeking to paint Hitler in a good light.


  1. I think it's called Hitler's Empire. Unless that's just the title in the US.


  3. From Wikipedia:

    The author Martin Middlebrook published a number of books on second world war operations. In two of his books he exposes inaccuracies in the works of David irving :

    In the book 'The Mare's Nest' Irving describes the English bombing raid on Peenemünde. Part of the English attack plan on Peenemünde was to lure the German fighters away from the target by a small diversion attack on Berlin. Irving describes how the Germans fell for this trap and that subsequently there was a huge 'méléé' of German fighters and flak shooting at each other over Berlin ( pp 108-9 ) Subsequently many of the German aircraft were supposed to have been lost when they all tried to land on the same airfield. None of this could be found back in surviving squadron war diaries, reports of casualties and losses nor in the interviews that Middlebrook had with German pilots who participated in the battle. No battle took place over Berlin that night and no German aircraft were attacked nor lost near Berlin. Middlebrook supposes that Irving has been misled by accounts of 'unscrupulous' Luftwaffe personalities that were in conflict with each other and were trying to settle scores after the war.

    In 'Und Deutschlands Städte Starben Nicht : Ein Dokumentarbericht' Irving wrote a chapter about the RAF Nuremberg Raid on the night of 30-31 March 1944, in which the RAF took exceptional heavy losses. Irving describes a scene on the afternoon of 30 March, so well before the raid got started, where a German interrogation officer tries to press an English airman into talking freely since they already knew that the target of the night is Nuremberg and Germans were setting an ambush. Two days later that English airman was shown an English newspaper that confirmed the Nuremberg attack and heavy losses. Irving gives names and places, but upon verification by Middlebook the story could not stand : The English airman proved to be fictional and the German interrogator did exist, but the man himself confirmed that Germans had never been able to detect a prospective target of an air raid in advance. Also, some tactical error on the German side would have certainly been avoided if the Germans knew the target in advance. For exemple, the 'Wild Boar' fighters were sent to Berlin and not Nuremberg ; Some aircraft stationed in the vicinity of Nuremberg were either not called up, or were sent in the wrong direction.

  4. I love slam-dunk arguments. This is a very good and very simple refutation of the arguments of people who deny that Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec were death camps. What happened to the people sent their by train if they did not die there?

  5. Winston Churchill argued that whilst some Jews would be killed by air attacks on the death camps and the death railways - far more would be saved by putting these places out of action (I think Churchill was correct - and that such air attacks should have been launched). Others were privately indifferent to the fate of the Jews. In his work "A History of the Jews" the late Paul Johnson points to the disgusting contrast between President Roosevelt's public utterances, when he was trying to get Jewish support in New York City (just about the only place in America where a "Jewish vote" mattered), and his private indifference to the fate of the Jews - indeed how Franklin Roosevelt privately cited, as true, the false National Socialist statistics about Jewish domination of the professions in Germany before Hitler came to power - as if such domination (which was FALSE - the Jews did NOT dominate the the professions in Germany in 1933) somehow justified the murder of the Jews in the early 1940s.

    1. One other thing that occurs to me is how differently people reacted to suffering. Some people made a passionate effort not to let suffering control them - but with some it did. For example, Mr Begin never got over the murder of his parents and his sister - he became wrath. Anger was not an emotion he experienced from time to time - rage consumed him.

      He himself was captured by the Soviets (rather than by the Germans) and was tortured and sent to a camp (ironically the official chage against Mr Begin was that he was an agent of British intelligence - as being a Polish officer cadet was not an official crime under Soviet "law"), had the Germans not invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 (leading to all Polish troops being released from Soviet camps) Mr Begin woujld have died in that Soviet camp.