Alfred Wetzler and "The True Story of the Auschwitz Protocol"

Published: 2008-09-11

1.Introduction

1.1. Wetzler and Vrba

Slovak Jew Alfréd Wetzler (1918-1988), who was deported to Auschwitz Birkenau in 1942, can best be described as the unknown sidekick to Rudolf Vrba (Walter Rosenberg). Together the two Slovak-Jewish “death camp” escapees wrote the so-called Auschwitz Protocol or Vrba-Wetzler Report, which in 1944 was published in English translation by the War Refugee Board in New York. It is often maintained that this report – which is divided into three parts: one written by Vrba, one by Wetzler, and a third written together – caused a shift in the Western Allied “awareness” of what would much later be called the “Holocaust”.

The report was originally published with its author’s names hidden behind the monikers “the first escapee“ and “the second escapee” – supposedly in order to grant their security while they still remained German occupied territory – but not to long after the war Vrba discarded his anonymity. In 1963 his book I Cannot Forgive (later retitled I Escaped from Auschwitz) was published in London. Vrba earned a Ph.D. and made an academic career. He also appeared as a witness in a number of trials, including the 1964-64 Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, as well as was interviewed in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah film.[1]

Wetzler, on the other hand, has remained in obscurity, at least to Western readers. While briefly taking the stand as a witness in the mentioned Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, the book he published in 1964, Escape from Hell, was not published in translation until 2007.[2] This may of course be explainable by the fact that Wetzler remained in Czechoslovakia until his death.

In the following article, I will briefly analyze the text by Wetzler, as well as compare some aspects of his eyewitness account with those of his co-escapee Rudolf Vrba. As will be seen, the two are far from unanimous.

2. The book Escape from Hell

In 1946 Wetzler wrote a brief account in Slovak based on the Vrba-Wetzler report entitled “Auschwitz, Tomb of Four Million People”.[3] Unfortunately, the author of this article has not yet been able to access this rare piece of writing.

Escape from Hell was originally written in 1963 in Slovak and published in 1964 by Osveta, Bratislava, under the title Čo Dante nevidel (“What Dante did not see”). At the time Wetzler was writing under the pseudonym Jozef Lanik, which had been his nom de plume in the Slovak resistance movement.
Curiously for an autobiographical account, Escape from Hell is written in third person. In the book Alfred Wetzler himself is referred to as Karol, while Rudolf Vrba (alias Walter Rosenberg) is called Val. As opposed to truly autobiographical writing, where the narrative is strictly limited to the thoughts, observations and experiences of the author, Escape from Hell contains several long passages describing events which the author himself could not have witnessed, such as the account of Himmler’s supposed inspection of the alleged homicidal gas chambers, and the depiction of what allegedly transpired inside Birkenau during the two days when Vrba and Wetzler were hiding in a barrack in the unfinished camp sector “Mexiko”, waiting for the right moment to escape.

3. The flaming crematory chimneys of Birkenau

Like many other Auschwitz witness writings, in particular early ones, Escape from Hell can not resist describing the spectacular scenery of crematory chimneys spewing flames towards a darkened sky:

From the four chimneys, one after another or simultaneously, blinding flames shoot up with a terrible hiss and roar. These fiery tongues, whose bluish or greenish beginnings are hardly seen, hop up and sink down just as though someone were pulling them down or pushing them up. They shoot up fiercely, at times very high, as if they were trying to burn someone up there. They leap up roaring and hissing: their sound swallows everything, penetrates everywhere, even into the men in cages where weak life still trembles and flickers. The flames are blinding, they wail and roar, they conjure up terrible visions. You close your eyes, but the flames are demoniacally strong and fierce. They pass through your closed lids and for a moment you feel them burning. You can turn away, you can look somewhere else, you can retract a few steps, but you are always under them, under those four fiery mass murderers.[4]

As has been carefully demonstrated by Carlo Mattogno and others, the mere idea that flames would protrude from the chimney of a coke-fired crematorium is technically absurd.[5] Wetzler’s claim of huge, blinding flames is thus even beyond that.

4. The victim figure

4.1. The number of Auschwitz victims according to Wetzler

To the question how many people perished in the Auschwitz complex, Wetzler offers the following estimate:

How many have they tortured to death, shot, hanged, poisoned, killed with phenol, killed with injections of cancer, typhus, malaria, by electric current or asphyxiation? Altogether three million, possibly more.[6]

In the Auschwitz Protocol, the number of Jews “gassed up till April 1944” is given as 1,765,000. The three million mentioned in Escape from Hell might thus be taken as a figure “extrapolated” from that, covering the entire period of existence of the camp and including “natural” deaths among Jews as well as non-Jewish deaths. By “electric current” Wetzler likely means deaths from contact with electrified fences, rather than the kind of electrocution death chambers at one point alleged for Bełżec.

The outrageous propaganda figure touted by Wetzler has prompted Péter Várnai of Cambridge University to write the book’s only footnote:

The author believed this number to be the true estimate of the people who died in Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1942 and 1944. Nevertheless, he gave a ‘careful estimate’ of 1,765,000 in the Vrba-Wetzler report in 1944. However, it is not possible today to obtain an accurate estimate of this figure as the retreating German army destroyed the majority of documents and other evidence. A number of authoritative estimates exist today for these gruesome statistics, ranging from one million to a few million people in total.

As will be seen below, the “few million” figure was discarded long before Várnai wrote this note.

4.2. The Auschwitz victim figure according to R. Vrba

In the bestselling book I Cannot Forgive, Vrba delivers his own authoritative estimate on the number of Auschwitz deaths:

And so he [Himmler] gave orders for the greatest, most efficient extermination factory the world has ever known. For the modern concrete gas chambers and the vast crematoria that could absorb as many as 12,000 bodies in twenty-four hours and, in fact, did so. For the machinery that sucked in 2,500,000 men, women and children in three years and puffed them out in harmless, black smoke.[7]

More than two decades later, when confronted with this passage at the 1985 Toronto Zündel trial, Vrba asserted that his estimates were correct and that the mainstream historians such as Raul Hilberg and Gerald Reitlinger who insisted on lower figures were mistaken:

It is not for me to explain the scholarships of Reitlinger or Hilberg, because they have different methods of scholarships. For them, if they do not have documents of considerable value and amount, which are very difficult to obtain, they prefer not to include that figure in their final calculation, because they are bound by historical discipline; whereas my figure is based on eyewitness account. […] I think that in this respect both Hilberg and Reitlinger has made an underestimate.[8]

In a deposition made by Vrba in The Israeli Embassy in London for submission at the Eichmann trial, we read:

I was imprisoned in Auschwitz from 30th June, 1942 until my escape on 7th April, 1944. During this time I worked as a member of the so-called Sonderkommando in the Property Department. This Department dealt with the property of people who had been killed in Auschwitz. I worked in this department until June 1943. I was present at the arrival of every transport to Auschwitz, or, if I was not present, as these were done in shifts, I was able to get figures from my workmates. So I was well in a position to obtain rather exact figures of how many people arrived in Auschwitz.

These figures were complied on the basis of the number of wagons from which each transport was made up. Secondly, on the density of people who were packed in the wagons and, as I worked quite a considerable time at this place, I was in a position on the basis of my experience to make this estimation. I was usually present when the arriving trains were opened. Thus I was easily in a position to obtain first-hand information about the number of people who arrived at Auschwitz.[9]

Vrba thus claimed that his statistics were correct, since he had access to “first-hand information” and had himself “seen the people walk into the crematoriums.” He was in fact so sure of himself, that he in the same deposition claimed that the figure of 1,750,000 people killed in Auschwitz until April 7, 1944 was correct “with a maximum possible error not exceeding more or less than ten per cent.”[10]

4.3. The number of persons deported to Auschwitz according to F. Piper

In 1991 Dr. Franciszek Piper, head of the historical department of the Auschwitz state museum, published a long article in which he discussed the death toll for the Auschwitz camp complex, which the previous year had been officially lowered from four million to one and a half million victims. In this study, Piper showed that the number of persons deported to Auschwitz amounted to approximately 1.3 million people.[11] According to Piper, 1.1 million of these deportees perished in the camp, most of them killed in homicidal gas chambers. While the latter claim is not supported by any documentary or forensic evidence, Piper’s research into the number of deportees makes it clear that the theoretical upper limit to the Auschwitz death toll must be set at approximately 1.1 million people.[12] This means that the figures of three, four, or two and a half million victims claimed by Wetzler and Vrba (as well as the vague “few millions” mentioned by Péter Várnai in 2007) are absolutely untenable.

Nuremberg Auschwitz witness Seweryna Szmaglewska writes in the foreword to her book Smoke over Birkenau that no less than five million people died or were killed at Auschwitz, stating that this figure had been “given out at the time of the liquidation of the camp by the people working in the Political Department”.[13] This suggests that propagandists among the inmate staff working with the reception and registration of prisoners came up with the wildly inflated death tolls later spread by the news media.

5. Himmler’s 1943 visit – Wetzler vs. Vrba

In the following section I will compare Wetzler’s and Vrba’s statement regarding an inspection tour of Auschwitz by Himmler which allegedly took place in early 1943.

5.1. Wetzler’s description of the visit

Wetzler provides the following time frame for the visit:

The crematoriums are now finished. Two of them are in operation, today or tomorrow they could easily exterminate the whole camp. Maybe the SS-Reichsführer was coming here personally for something of the kind.[14]

The two Birkenau crematoria buildings first finished were number II and IV, inaugurated on March 15 and 22 and respectively. Krema III, while being located just opposite Krema II and in construction the mirror image of this building, was not finished until June 25 the same year. I will return to this issue later.

Wetzler further indicates the time frame in the following sentence:

He [“Bubo”, a prisoner] has worked six months on the crematoriums that were finished two days ago.

Thus if we assumed the “crematoriums” to be number II and IV, the present date should be March 24. Next Wetzler describes the late March weather:

The March sun now stands low in the sky, its last rays licking the flat plain.[15]

The spring sun shines brightly and in its warm light everything looks somehow softer and more delicate.[16]

At this point of time in the narrative, Wetzler works in a small wooden mortuary situated about one hundred meters south west of Krema II. From this location Wetzler had the opportunity to observe the arriving cars of Himmler’s convoy through a rigged-open door:

Marek fixes the door of the hut with wire so that they can see the road clearly through the crack. Then he picks up six tiles which are lying by the hut and sets them down next to one another a short way from the door.[17]

The Reichsführer’s convoy and its arrival to the area between Krema II and (in reality not yet finished) Krema III is described thus:

The rays of the sun gleams on the bodywork of the latest luxury models on the main road. Three…five…seven…twelve cars. They all turn to the right nearer to the crematoriums.
In the cage by the gate is a sixteen-man band with a conductor. It has just started playing the ‘Entry of the Gladiators’. On the road outside the crematoriums stand fifty striped ones from the squad that works on the ramp. Val [=Vrba] is among them.[18]

Senior SS dignitaries step out of the cars – local ones and unfamiliar ones, as well as a few civilians. […] The SS men and the civilians straighten up and line up by the road and intently look at the fifth car, from which Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler alights.[19]

According to Wetzler, Himmler was welcomed at this site by the camp commandant:

SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Franz Hoess, the commandant of this huge complex of camps, begins to scratch something on the road surface with his stick. Hoess explains. Himmler looks at the drawing on the ground and nods. Abruptly he starts, pushes his sleeve up and looks at his watch. ‘Obersturmbannführer,’ he says to Hoess reprovingly, ‘it’s two minutes past ten.’
Hoess freezes to attention and worriedly looks at the road. Yes, it’s two minutes past ten, but everything is in best order. From the road in front comes the noise of a long column of lorries. […] From the wooden mortuary Karol [=Wetzler] and Marek have a good view of the people in the open lorries.
‘Good lord, it’s a transport,’ Karol desperately grumbles.[20]

Wetzler thus has it that Himmler’s convoy arrived at the crematoria early in the morning, shortly before ten o’clock. The lorries carrying the victims of the demonstration gassing arrives a few minutes later, at 10:02 AM. The Jewish victims are thereafter unloaded and made to form columns:

On the road they’ve formed columns of five – women and children together, old men and old women with their grandchildren. Out front a boy of three begins to cry. His mother tries to quiet him, she talks to him and caresses him, but the little boy keeps crying, with tears like peas rolling down his cheeks.
‘Is this fine young man sick?’ Himmler asks. ‘Shouldn’t he be seen by the doctor?’[21]

The victims are helped off the trucks by SS staff members:

‘Slow and steady,’ Himmler reminds a bulky SS man who has so awkwardly supported and old woman that she nearly fell from the ramp. ‘Slow and steady, we don’t want any accidents. We’ve got all the time in the world.’[22]

The number of victims amounts to 1,200:

And so two hundred and forty columns of five – women and children in front – at Hoess’s command they move silently down to the washrooms over which square chimneys are towering. Behind this long and unsteadily stumbling crowd a military vehicle marked with a red cross moves slowly. It turns behind a low hedge, where two SS men with black flashes get out. Medical orderlies.

Thus the car with the poison gas arrives as the victims are walking into the crematoria building, sometime between 10:02 and 10:30. Besides the gas, the car carries two men described as medical orderlies.

‘Alles in Ordnung? Das ist alles?’ Himmler asks the commander who has accompanied the column of vehicles.
‘No, Herr Reichsführer, this isn’t everything, this is only one half’, replies SS-Oberscharführer Moll, the commandant of the crematorium […]. They’re bringing the rest along this evening.’

We here learn that only half of the Jewish transport will be gassed in the morning, and that the rest are expected to arrive in the evening.

‘Also los, we can begin,’ Himmler calls out drily. […] ‘We can begin,’ Himmler repeats and briskly steps up to the brick buildings. Those in his entourage follow him at a respectful distance. Some of them unbutton their collars because the sun beats down on them. ‘Got a wonderful spring here,’ Himmler says to Hoess up front. And with obvious impatience he asks: ‘Does it take long for them to undress?’

Once again we are reminded that this supposedly takes places on a very warm and sunny March day.

For a while they chat outside the building, then, at a signal from Moll, they enter. They take turns at the little window in the upper part of the steel door – Himmler, professors of medicine from Berlin, Hamburg, Münster and representatives of various firms, Hoess and officers from the staff of the camp commandant. […]
The people in the chambers stand body to body and are terrified.
The two medical orderlies unload green tins from their vehicles. On the grassy hill that masks the roof of the chambers they put on gas masks. Then they open the flaps of the ventilating shafts, break the patent lid of the cans and into the opening empty the crystals of greenish-purple color.

Not until the victims are already inside the gas chamber do the SS men with the poison gas cans climb up on the gas chamber roof and empty the Zyklon B through the introduction shafts. It is not mentioned whether Himmler and his entourage has to descend any stairs in order to reach the door with the peephole. Note the color ascribed to the Zyklon B, which in reality consists of gypsum pellets of white or bluish-white color. The cans are described as green, while the actual color in most cases appears to have been metallic.

Himmler glances at his watch and from that moment onwards, for the next ten minutes, he doesn’t tear his eyes from the window in the [gas chamber] door.
The people who not so long ago were worried about their baggage, who a few minutes earlier accepted the attentive services of the SS men, turn rigid and look up to where tiny crystals drop out from showerheads. A gas quickly issue from the crystals, they inhale it now, a sharp, poisonous substance. Himmler, his eyes glued to the window, eagerly watches as the people behind the steel door are progressively seized by spasms, as they wring their hands, tear their hair, turn rigid. The gas rises up, the children twist longer in terminal spasms. The SS officers, engineers, technicians and scientists curiously watch Himmler, trying to read from his round face, now red with excitement, whether he is satisfied. Inside all movement has ceased. Himmler turns and almost shouts:

‘Famos! Famos! Sensational! Grossartig, genial!’
With a little envy they all look at Herr Prüfer, the chief engineer of the firm Topf und Söhne in Erfurt, who had designed and installed these ‘washrooms’. Prüfer turns his face to Himmler, as if this recognition belonged to him alone, bows a little and says:
‘The firm Topf und Söhne will be immensely happy, Herr Reichsführer, that it has, at least in small measure, contributed to the realisation of your inspired plans.’
Himmler warms up:
‘No such modesty, my dear fellow. You accomplished more than a good division in the field. This is a complete reversal of strategy. A complete reversal, gentlemen! This...’ he points to the empty green can that Moll meanwhile brought along – ‘this...’
‘Zyklon B, Herr Reichsführer,’ Herr Faust helps him out tactfully. He is the engineer of the firm Degesch, which produced those miraculous little crystals.
‘Yes, this Zyklon B, gentlemen, will remain a major milestone in the historic struggle of the men of the SS against the lesser races. A few cans for six or seven thousand units. I believe the Führer will be very satisfied.’
He glances once more through the little window and, leaving the building, he says to Hoess:
‘Very soon we’ll be sending you a lot of material – Russians, Poles, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Italians, a great many Greeks and also some Northerners…I am sure that with this Zyklon, you’ll quickly get rid of them, my dear Hoess.’
‘Very quickly, Herr Reichsführer,’ Hoess agrees with a smile. ‘You were good enough to convince yourself…one thousand and two hundred in less than ten minutes. Of course the cremation time will have to be added…’ […].

The above description of Himmler and his entourage witnessing the gassing can of course only be derived from hearsay or imagination. It also seems highly unlikely that Wetzler (or most other inmates for that matter) would have been able to identify the civilian persons Faust and Prüfer. It seems more probable that Wetzler heard of their names after the war and that he then incorporated them into his visual-sadistic Himmler fantasy. The time allegedly required for the gassing, “less than ten minutes”, is, as shown by Germar Rudolf and others, patently absurd.

‘You do not wish to have a look at the second building, Herr Reichsführer?’ Hoess asks. ‘It has a bigger capacity and also a basement.’
‘Well, just a quick look then, seeing that we are here,’ Himmler graciously agrees.
They walk down the well-rolled road. The drivers with the empty limousines creep along noiselessly after them. […]. [23]

Here again we are dealing with what can only be ascribed to hearsay (or perhaps more likely) imagination, but there is also a major contradiction present in this passage which must be addressed. That is: Given the March date and the statement that Wetzler is observing Himmler and his entourage from a mortuary located next to Block 27 in Birkenau Bauabschnitt Ib, the crematorium where the demonstration gassing is supposed to take place can only be Krema II. Yet this building has a basement, or rather semi-basement, wherein Morgue I, the alleged “gas chamber”, is located. Krema III, being the mirror image of Krema II, of course also had a (semi-)basement, but this building was still unfinished in March 1943. When finished, its “gas chamber” would of course have had the same capacity, not a larger one as reportedly stated by the camp commandant. What then about the finished Krema IV? To begin with, it did not have a basement. It also allegedly had a much smaller killing capacity than Krema II.    

As the cars turn off towards Hoess’s villa, one hundred and fifty prisoners, the Sonderkommando, march out of the men’s camp. The ventilators in the gas chambers are switched on, the gas is dispersing, fresh air is streaming in. The corpses have to be carried out to the furnaces, the gas chambers have to be emptied, everything’s got to be ready in five hours, just as it was an hour and a half ago.[24]

The time is thus still noon.
The sentence about the corpses having to be “carried out to the furnaces” is interesting, since it implies that Wetzler is not aware of the elevator trip necessary to bring bodies from Morgue I (the “gas chamber”) to the furnace room. This however is in harmony with the schematic drawing and description of Krema II and II in the Auschwitz Protocol, which places their “gas chambers“ and the ovens more or less at the same floor. On the other hand, the above cited mention of the gas chambers being covered by a “grassy hill” appears to contradict this notion.

An hour later the one hundred and fifty inmates of the Sonderkommando come out of the crematorium, line up on the road and with tired steps march into the cage. All traces have been perfectly removed.
Fifty are again standing in two rows by the ditch, facing the road. Not far from the crematoriums the limousines move in a tidy line. Reichsführer Himmler, the commandant of the Auschwitz camps, Hoess, the engineers, technicians and scientists from Berlin, Hamburg and Münster are again watching the SS men as, with gentle smiles, a few friendly words and supportive arms they are helping the people down the long, wide ramps from twenty-eight trucks.
A moment later Himmler questions the NCO who had escorted this second transport:

‘Alles in ordnung?’[25]

Again we wonder at Wetzler’s capability of identifying from a distance the professions of the civilians in Himmler’s entourage.

Karol and Marek have had their soup inside the hut; now they have come out and have stopped near the cookhouse, where they are joined by Bubo. Val [=Vrba] has also come back, there will be no sorting until tomorrow.[26]

The author has thus stayed inside the mortuary for the entire time of the alleged happenings.

From the distance comes the sound from motor vehicles. Surely they are not again… No, these are only the two missing vehicles from the second transport. The vehicles turn into the camp and stop by the cookhouse. Young boys jump out from them. One hundred and twenty, saved from Zyklon B by an inexplicable breakdown not far from the camp.[27]

The above described event is just one of an untold number of life-saving miracles recalled by the eyewitnesses in their holy scripts.

It is Lagerruhe, but flames are leaping from the chimneys, fed by the bodies of over two thousand people from Cracow.[28]

This figure appears to be the sum of the victims from both demonstration gassings, and not only that of the latter one.

5.2. Rudolf Vrba’s description of the Himmler visit

Let us now take a look at the description of the alleged Himmler visit found in Rudolf Vrba’s book I Cannot Forgive:

Heinrich Himmler visited Auschwitz Camp again in January, 1943. […]
He [Himmler] was to watch the world’s first conveyor belt killing, the inauguration of Commandant Hoess’s brand new toy, his crematorium. It was a truly splendid affair, one hundred yards long and fifty yards wide, containing fifteen ovens which could burn three bodies simultaneously in twenty minutes […].
Commandant Hoess, anxious to display his new toy at its most efficient, had arranged for a special transport of 3,000 Polish Jews to be present for slaughter in the modern, German way.
Himmler arrived at eight o’clock that morning and the show was to start an hour later. By eight-forty-five, the new gas chambers, with their clever dummy showers and their notices “Keep Clean,” “Keep Quiet”, and so on, were packed to capacity.
The S.S. Guards, indeed, had made sure that not an inch of space would be wasted by firing shots at the entrance. This encouraged those already inside to press away from the doors and more victims were ushered in. Then babies and very small children were tossed on to the heads of the adults and the doors were closed and sealed.
An S.S. man, wearing a heavy service gas mask, stand on the roof of the gas chamber, waiting to drop in the Cyclon B pellets which released a hydrogen cyanide gas. […]
By eight-fifty-five the tension was almost unbearable. The man in the gas mask was fidgeting with his box of pellets. He had a fine full house beneath him. But there was no sign of the Reichsführer who had gone off to have breakfast with Commandant Hoess.
Somewhere a phone rang. Every head turned towards it. A junior N.C.O. clattered over to the officer in charge of the operation, saluted hastily and panted out a message. […]
The message was: “The Reichsführer hasn’t finished his breakfast yet.” […] The Reichsführer, it seemed, was still at his breakfast. The S.S. man on the roof of the gas chamber squatted on his haunches. Inside the chamber itself frantic men and women, who knew by that time what a shower in Auschwitz meant, began shouting, screaming and pounding weakly on the door; but nobody outside heard them because the new chamber was sound-proof as well as gas-proof. […]
The morning dragged on and the managers came and went. By ten o’clock the marathon breakfast was still under way. By half past ten the S.S. men had become almost immune to false alarms and the man on the roof remained on his haunches even when the distant telephone rang.
But by eleven o’clock, just two hours late, a car drew up. Himmler and Hoess got out and chatted for a while to the senior officers present. Himmler listened intently, as they explained the procedure to him in detail. He ambled over to the sealed door, glanced casually through the small, thick observation window at the squirming bodies inside, then returned to fire some more questions at his underlings.
At last, however, everybody was ready for action. A sharp command was given to the S.S. man on the roof. He opened a circular lid and dropped the pellets quickly onto the heads below him. […]
The gassing had begun. Having waited for a while so that the poison would have circulated properly, Hoess courteously invited his guest to have another peep through the observation window. For some minutes Himmler peered into the death chamber, obviously impressed, and then turned with new interest to his commandant with a fresh batch of questions. […]
Several times he [Himmler] left the group of officers to watch the progress through the peephole; and, when everyone inside was dead, he took a keen interest in the procedure that followed.
Special lifts took the bodies to the crematorium, but the burning did not follow immediately. Gold teeth had to be removed. Hair, which was used to make the warheads of the torpedoes watertight, had to be cut from the heads of the women. The bodies of wealthy Jews […] had to be set aside for dissection in case any of them had been cunning enough to conceal jewelry – diamonds, perhaps – about their person.
It was, indeed, a complicated business, but the new machine worked smoothly under the hands of skilled operators. Himmler waited until the smoke began to thicken over the chimneys and then he glanced at his watch.
It was one o’clock. Lunch time, in fact. He shook hands with the senior officers, returned the salutes of the lower ranks casually and cheerfully and climbed back into the car with Hoess.[29]

As will be shown below, Vrba’s account clashes with that of Wetzler on no less than thirteen major points.

5.3. The Himmler visit in the Vrba-Wetzler report

Only a few lines in the Auschwitz Protocol are devoted to the alleged Himmler visit. They read:

Prominent guests from BERLIN were present at the inauguration of the first crematorium in March, 1943. The “program” consisted of the gassing and burning of 8,000 Cracow Jews. The guests, both officers and civilians, were extremely satisfied with the results and the special peephole fitted into the door of the gas chamber was in constant use.

5.4. Rudolf Höß’ s account of visits by Himmler

In the memoirs written by (or ascribed to) the former Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höß just prior to his execution in 1947, we read:

My next meeting with Himmler was in the summer of 1942 when he visited Auschwitz for the second and last time.[30]

Höß thus denies the reality of the Himmler visit described by Vrba and Wetzler. On this point Höß is in fact supported by what is often considered the most authoritative Auschwitz chronicle, Danuta Czech’s Kalendarium.[31] According to it, Himmler visited the camp only twice, on March 7, 1941, and July 17, 1942.

5.5. Vrba’s testimony at the Toronto Zündel trial

When during the Zündel trial Vrba was confronted with his account of the alleged Himmler visit and the statements in Czech’s Kalendarium, Vrba suddenly grew unsure of if it was really Himmler he had seen:

I was informed at that time by the grapevine in the camp that Himmler is coming to visit the camp again, and then there was a cavalcade equipped as if it would be Himmler in other words, the standard Mercedes and the standard sycophants constantly around, but he didn’t come to shake hands with me and to introduce himself to me or to say, “I am Himmler”, or he didn't tell me, you know, “Himmler didn't come this time but I am instead of his and this is my name.” So you might be quite right that that information might be not perfectly exact, only close to exact.[32]

Vrba gave no explanation as to why in I Cannot Forgive he had placed the supposed visit in January, two months prior to the inauguration of the first Birkenau crematorium.

5.6. Summary of contradictions

Below I have listed the major contradictions which become apparent when comparing the statements of Wetzler and Vrba on the alleged Himmler visit:

  1. The date of the visit. Wetzler does not provide any exact date for the visit, but it implicated that it takes place in mid- or late March. Regarding the weather we learn that the spring sun was shining so hot that some SS men unbuttoned their uniforms. Vrba on the other hand writes that the visit took place in January, when such temperatures are hardly likely in southern Poland. Also at this point in time none of the Birkenau crematoria were finished, so that the demonstration gassing hardly could have taken place. According to Höß as well as Auschwitz historian Danuta Czech, this visit never took place.
  2. Himmler’s time of arrival. In Wetzler, we read that Himmler and his entourage arrived at the crematorium a few minutes to ten in the morning. Vrba in his book claims that Himmler arrived to the camp already at 8 o’clock in the morning. The demonstration killing was then scheduled to commence at 9 o’clock, but due what certainly must have been an extraordinary breakfast table, Himmler and Höß get delayed for no less than two hours, causing the SS officers stationed at the crematoria to run around like hens.
  3. The arrival of the victims. Wetzler has it that Himmler and Höß waited on the road in front of the crematorium for the victims to arrive. Himmler then oversees the unloading of the victims, the formation of columns, and the entrance of the victims into the crematorium. He also exchanges some words with a Jewish woman. In Vrba we read that the victims were already present inside the gas chamber when Himmler and Höß arrived at the crematoriums.
  4. Himmler’s entourage. In Wetzler’s version of the events, Himmler and his entourage arrive to Krema II in twelve luxury cars. His entourage include not only Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höß and a number of unnamed senior SS officers, but also a number of civilians, including “engineers, technicians and scientists from Berlin, Hamburg and Münster” as well as Kurt Prüfer of the firm Topf und Söhne and Max Faust of Degesch. Vrba on the other hand, who would have had an excellent opportunity to view the arriving cars, speaks of only one car and does not mention any civilians accompanying Himmler.
  5. Manner of transport. According to Wetzler, the victims arrived loaded on lorries. Vrba, despite being present at the place where the victims supposedly were unloaded, does not mention what kind of vehicles the Jews arrived in.
  6. From arrival to gassing. According to Vrba, the SS guards fire shots at the gas chamber entrance in order to fill up the space better. They also violently throw babies and small children in over the heads of the adult victims. In Wetzler no shots are fired. Perhaps significantly, neither Vrba nor Wetzler describes exactly how the victims reach the gas chamber from the outside of the building. Vrba has no description at all, while Wetzler merely states that the victims “move silently down to the washrooms” (again contradicting the words ascribed to Höß that “the second building” has a basement, in contrast to the one he and Himmler have just left).
  7. The introduction of Zyklon B. According to Wetzler the Zyklon B was brought to the site by one or possibly two military vehicles bearing Red Cross insignia. The vehicle(s) arrive at the same time as the victims are about to enter the crematorium. Two SS medical orderlies “with black flashes” steps out of the vehicle, carrying the Zyklon B cans. They do not step up on the roof of the gas chamber until all victims have been led inside the crematorium. Vrba does not mention any vehicle(s) with Red Cross insignia. It is left unclear in his text how the gas was brought to the site of the crematoria. Vrba further has it that a single SS man in a “heavy service gas mask” poured Zyklon B pellets from a single “box” into what appears to be a single opening in the gas chamber roof (it is anyway not mentioned that the contents of the “box” is dropped into more than one opening). This man has to wait two hours, sitting on his haunches on the gas chamber roof, for Himmler’s arrival and the start of the gassing.
  8. Himmler and the gas chamber. In Wetzler we are told that Himmler spent the entire time of the gassing glued to the peephole, his face red by excitement. In Vrba we read that Himmler looked through the peephole for a few minutes and spent the rest of the time discussing the process with Höß.
  9. Duration of the gassing. “Less than ten minutes” according to Wetzler. In Vrba the time is not stated, but it is implied that it takes significantly longer than ten minutes.
  10. Himmler’s departure from the crematorium. In Wetzler, Himmler and his party leaves the crematorium right away after the gassing is finished. In Vrba, Himmler is said to have taken a “keen interest” in the procedure which followed the gassing, and it is stated that he did not leave the building “until the smoke began to thicken over the chimneys”.
  11. The whereabouts of the Sonderkommando. According to Wetzler, the Sonderkommando workers waited in their quarters in the men’s camp until Himmler and his entourage had left the crematorium in their cars. Vrba on the other hand implies that the Sonderkommando was present in the crematorium during the entire time of Himmler’s visit
  12. The second gassing. According to Wetzler the victims of the morning’s demonstration gassing made up the first half of a Jewish transport from Cracow. The remaining part of the transport was then gassed in the afternoon or evening of the same day. No second gassing is mentioned by Vrba.
  13. The number of victims. Wetzler writes that on the day of Himmler’s visit, a transport of Jews from the Cracow ghetto was gassed in two batches. The first consisted of 1,200 people. The number of victims in the second batch is not specified clearly, but since Wetzler writes that the lorries carrying the second batch contained on average 60 people each, that there were in all 30 lorries, whereof two got delayed and missed the gassing, we may estimate the (hypothetical) number of victims to 1,680. This would make a total of about 2,880 murdered Cracow Jews. Wetzler simply writes that the victims of that day totaled “over two thousand”. Vrba on the other hand states that a total of “3000 Polish Jews” were gassed. According to the 1944 Vrba-Wetzler report (in its OSS translation), the inauguration spectacle consisted of “the gassing and burning of 8,000 Cracow Jews.”

5.7. A brief assessment of the contradictions

Let us next briefly consider the significance of the respective contradictions:

Contradiction 1: It seems very strange that Vrba would date the visit to January, if in reality it had taken place on the hot March day described by Wetzler. The weather conditions could possibly be checked through contemporary metrological data, if such are available. On the other hand, the date given by Vrba is impossible in light of the fact that none of the Birkenau crematoria were finished at that time.

Contradiction 2: That Vrba gives the time of Himmler’s arrival to the crematorium as 11 AM, while Wetzler has it as approximately 10 AM should perhaps not be considered as too major a contradiction, given that it is hardly conceivable that Vrba actually would have known the visit’s schedule.

Contradiction 3: The contradiction between the accounts in regards to chronological order of Himmler’s arrival and that of the victims simply cannot be explained away, since both Vrba and Wetzler would have been fully able to witness the arrivals (cf. map below).

Contradiction 4: While the identification of the civilian members of Himmler’s entourage must be ascribed to hearsay or imagination, the contradiction involving the numbers of cars in the entourage is not easily explained away. How could Wetzler see twelve luxury cars, and Vrba only one?

Contradiction 5: That Vrba does not mention any lorries could of course be ascribed to a simple omission in his part.

Contradiction 6: Given the standard gassing scenario alleged for Krema II, both Vrba and Wetzler would have been able to observe the victims descend down the stairs to the “undressing room” (cf. map below). That none of them gives any detail on this part of the alleged process is telling. That Wetzler does not mention any shots being fire could be explained by his distance to the crematorium building.

Contradiction 7: Like the third contradiction, the two scenarios given here simply cannot be reconciled.

Contradiction 8: The difference here may of course be ascribed to hearsay or imagation.

Contradiction 9: Given that neither Vrba nor Wetzler were present inside the crematoria building at the time, this difference should not be given much significance.

Contradiction 10: As with the third and seventh contradictions, this difference between the accounts cannot be resolved.

Contradiction 11: This is hardly explainable, given contradiction number ten.

Contradiction 12: This contradiction might perhaps be explained by Vrba not being present in the vicinity of the crematorium during the afternoon and evening and later being ignorant of it, or simply forgetting to mention it.

Contradiction 13: Here the most significant difference is between the figures of the respective accounts from the 1960s and the Auschwitz Protocol text from 1944. As we have seen above, Vrba brags about being able to make very exact estimates of the number of deportees of each transport. How then could he confuse 8,000 with 3,000?

Area of Krema II and III in 1943

Illustration: The area of Krema II and III in 1943: A) The location of Wetzler’s mortuary, B) Vrba’s position according to Wetzler, C) Morgue II (the “undressing room”), D) Morgue II (the “gas chamber”).

6. Greuelpropaganda

Like all Auschwitz eyewitness literature, Wetzler’s book contains tales of SS sadism that are almost certainly not grounded in fact, but in rumors spread by angry or fearful prisoners. Here is one of them, obviously based on hearsay, as Wetzler admittedly never entered any of the crematories:

…when the SS man discovers [a theft of dental gold] he always has one of the Sonderkommando put on a stretcher and shoved into the fire. On a soap-greased stretcher for easier slipping.[33]

That the SS posted to the crematories would carry out this kind of exceedingly brutal punishment seems completely absurd, not only in light of the strict regulations concerning punishment of prisoners, but also since the panic-stricken victim might very well seriously damage the equipment of the oven muffle.

About the camp’s German doctors Wetzler has the following flattery to say:

In their experiments they deform their skulls, legs, arms and then they report their findings under lamps whose shades are made of human skin.[34]

Here Wetzler clearly tries to recycle the human lampshade story, which is normally attached to the Buchenwald camp.[35] As far as the writer of this article is aware, there exist no other claims of such artifacts being produced or present in Auschwitz.

That propaganda and rumors were rampant in the camp, and that most inmates were aware of them as such is noted even by Wetzler himself:

…in all the months he [=Wetzler] had not met a single person who had not accepted the rumors of the mass killing in the concentration camps without reservations or without some remark about propaganda.[36]

7. The sources of the Vrba-Wetzler report

According to Wetzler, one of the main informants behind the Auschwitz Protocol was a young Jew in the Sonderkommando which he calls “Filipek”, a nickname for Filip:

Filipek in Hut 13 lies on his bunk dressed […]. He thinks about the two years he has survived here. He has long deleted himself from the list of the living, because all the time he has been working with the dead, and at this moment he wonders whether he, ‘dead’, did enough while alive in those surroundings. He feels he probably did. He wrote down the names of all the SS men working around the crematoriums. He recorded the transports around which he worked: where they had come from and when. In this collection of information he had been helped by others. Yet even so… He pulled off the label from one can of Zyklon. He got the first two parts of cleanly, the next two he copied by hand: place of manufacture, name or title of the manufacturer – enough to prove criminal complicity.[37]

This is clearly the same person as Filip Müller, another well-known Auschwitz witness. In his book Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers, we read about the assistance he claims to have given Vrba and Wetzler:

Alfred [Wetzler] and Walter [Rosenberg a.k.a. Rudolf Vrba] would succeed in escaping from this hell on earth, of that I now felt much more confident. If they managed to get through they would be sure to accomplish the assignment they had undertaken. When on the evening of the third day after their escape the outer courdon was withdrawn, I heaved a sigh of relief. I had great expectations from the success of their flight. It was from them that, at long last, the world would learn about the death factories of Auschwitz.
I had handed to Alfred a plan of the crematoria and gas chambers as well as a list of names of the SS men who were on duty there. In addition I had given to both of them notes I had been making for some time of almost all transports gassed in crematoria 4 and 5. I had described to them in full detail the process of extermination so that they would be able to report to the outside world exactly how the victims had their last pitiful belongings taken away from them; how they were tricked into entering the gas chambers; how after the gassings their teeth were wrenched out and the women's hair cut off; how the dead were searched for hidden valuables; how their spectacles, artificial limbs ad dentures were collected; and everything else that took place. In the course of many long talks I had described to them both the tragedy which was constantly being enacted behind the crematorium walls.
The most important piece of evidence which I gave them to take on their journey was one of those labels which were stuck on the tins containing Zyclon B poison gas. I tried for a long time to lay my hands on one of these tins.[38]

While Wetzler agrees that Müller had provided them with the torn-off Zyklon can label, he claims that the plan of Krema II and III was drawn not by Müller, but by a certain Vasil, “who had drawn the plan in the small locksmith’s shed.”[39] The crematoria plan and the maps of the camp were then put inside a metal tube, carried by Wetzler. The tube was then lost when Vrba and Wetzler were ambushed by a German patrol two days after their escape from the camp: 

Somewhere he [=Wetzler] lost his metal tube, probably near the power station when they had been running for their lives and frequently falling. Rolled up in the tube was the ground plan of the crematoriums, the plan of the concentration camp and the SS barracks. Oh, this is terrible! My dear Vasil, your work has been in vain.[40]

According to Wetzler, Vrba carried a second metal tube, containing “the history of the establishment of the camp, a list of transports, the entire hierarchy of the SS, the incredible brutality and the incredible victims, and the label of a Zyklon B canister.” This tube was not lost during the journey to Slovakia. Wetzler further details the contents of the second tube:

He [=Wetzler] takes out some rolled-up paper from the tube. ‘The prisoners in the central registry risked the gas chambers when they copied these facts out for us.’ […] These dirty sheets of paper contain very important facts: data on the establishment and extension of the various camps, numbers of victims driven there first from Poland and then from France and Germany and later still from all of the occupied countries of Europe, including ‘non-occupied’ Slovakia.[41]

Wetzler further describes himself as saying to the Slovak Jewish leaders:

‘They [the data on transports and victims] are copied from the record book, from the data at the political department, a few were given us by the men from the crematoriums, and there are also some of our own entries from the ramp and from the camp.’ […] ‘They are truthful, but not complete. They only cover major transports and major selections.”[42]

In the aforementioned 1960 London deposition, Vrba explains the background to the statistics of the Auschwitz Protocol:

All these figures were checked by direct information from prisoners who worked in the gas chambers and in the crematoriums in Auschwitz and knew the exact figures because they dealt with the bodies of the killed people.[43]

As one of these Sonderkommando informants, Vrba mentions “Philip Müller”.

Regarding the lost maps and ground plans, Vrba is described by Wetzler as saying:

‘We’ll cobble up those plans ourselves, it doesn’t have to be a topographical hand. They’ll find Auschwitz on the map and we’ll draw the rest.’[44]

In I Cannot Forgive Vrba does not mention the loss of a metal tube with plans, and neither does he explain where the maps included with his and Wetzler’s report came from. Questioned on this issue during the Zündel trial, he stated:

Q. Sure. I now produce and show to you a diagram which came from, I suggest, your War Refugee Report of 1944 in which you depicted a crematoria. Correct?

A. That's right.

Q. Is it accurate?

A. This I cannot say. It was said that as we were not in the large crematoria, we reconstructed it from messages we got from members of the Sonderkommando working in that crematorium, and therefore, that approximately how it transpired in our mind, and in our ability to depict what we have heard.

Q. That is what you depicted, though?

A. Yes.

Q. And it is accurately depicting what you depicted?

A. That's right. It is accurately depicting what I heard that it might look like.[45]

The implication of Vrba’s testimony is that Vrba or Wetzler drew up the maps based on what they remembered from what had been told to them by Sonderkommando prisoners. There is no mention of a ground plan made by a member of the Sonderkommando and later redrawn from memory.

8. The escape to Slovakia

While Wetzler spends over 40 pages describing the escape from Auschwitz and the hazardous travel to Slovakia, Vrba in I Cannot Forget cover the same events in considerable fewer words. The description of the two escapee’s walk from Auschwitz to the Slovak border takes up no more than 11 pages.  

8.1. A summary of Vrba’s account[46]

After having fled Auschwitz on April 9, 1944, the two escapees, armed only with knives, spend their first night sleeping inside a clump of bushes. The night after that, they “wander right into the outer confines of a concentration camp” and find themselves in a public park used by SS men and their families. They are seen by an Oberscharführer and his children but manage to get away, continuing their journey at a deliberately slow pace. On the fifth day of their journey, while heading for the Bezkyd Mountains, Vrba and Wetzler loose their way and find themselves in the midst of the city of Bielsko. They then reach the village of Pisarovice just at the break of day, which means that they have to seek help. Pretending they are Christian Poles, they are let into the house of an old woman, who gives them advice how to reach the mountains. After another two days, Vrba and Wetzler have come halfway on their journey. They heed the words told them by another prisoner, to stay out of the town of Porebka, but at the outskirts of the same town they are suddenly fired at by a German patrol. Running and hiding behind rocks, the two manage to escape into a forest. A day later they encounter an old woman and an old man who provides them with food and shows them the way over the Polish-Slovak border. On April 21 they reach the outskirts of the town of Cadca, where they are taken in by a peasant, Canecky, who three days later puts them in touch with a Jewish doctor named Pollak. On April 25 the two are brought to meet the Jewish leaders in the town of Zilina.

8.2. Wetzler’s account

As already mentioned, Wetzler’s account is much fuller than Vrba’s. There are a number of contradictions and differences between the two accounts, the most major one being that Vrba does not mention anything about a metal tube with maps being lost. It might be assumed that since he continued to live in Czechoslovakia after the war, Wetzler better remembered the geography and route, and thus was able to write a more detailed account.

9. Conclusion

In his book Escape from Hell, Slovak Jew Alfréd Wetzler describes his time as a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau, his escape from the camp together with Rudolf Vrba, and the writing of the so-called Auschwitz Protocol (also known as the World Refugee Board report). The perhaps most interesting part of it, from the viewpoint of a gas chamber skeptic, is the description of an alleged visit by Himmler to Birkenau in early 1943. As has been demonstrated above, Wetzler’s description of this alleged event on several points stands in severe contradiction with the account published by his comrade Vrba in 1959. The two accounts clashes on a number of other points also, and in addition Wetzler’s writing shows susceptibility to hearsay and a strong tendency to fantasize about such things as crematory chimneys spewing roaring geysers of flame. It would indeed have been interesting, if Wetzler like Vrba could have been summoned as a witness to the 1985 Zündel trial.


[1]
Cf. Ernst Bruun, “Rudolf Vrba exposes himself as a liar”, The Revisionist 1(2) (2003), pp. 169f.
[2]
Alfred Wetzler, Escape from Hell: The True Story of the Auschwitz Protocol, translated by with Ewald Osers with notes by Péter Várnai, Berghahn Books, Oxford/New York 2007.
[3]
Josef Lanik, Oswiecim, hrobka styroch millionov ludi, Vydalo Poverenictve SNR, Kosice 1946.
[4]
Wetzler, p. 69. Other references to flames protruding from crematorium chimneys may be found on pages 57, 71.
[5]
Carlo Mattogno, “Flames and Smoke from the Chimneys of Crematoria: Optical Phenomena of Actual Cremations in the Concentration Camps of the Third Reich”, The Revisionist 2(1) (2004), pp. 73-78.
[6]
Wetzler, p. 112.
[7]
Vrba, Rudolf & Alan Bestic, I Cannot Forgive, Bantam Books, Toronto 1964, p. 10.
[8]
Her Majesty the Queen vs. Ernst Zündel, District Court of Toronto, January 1985, p. 1455.
[9]
Vrba, p. 269.
[10]
Ibid, p. 271.
[11]
F. Piper, “Estimating the Number of Deportees to and Victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp”, in: Yad Vashem Studies, XXI, Jerusalem 1991, pp. 49-103.
[12]
Since orthodox historians acknowledge about 200.000 Auschwitz survivors.
[13]
S. Szmaglewska, Smoke over Birkenau, Henry Holt and Company, New York 1947.
[14]
Wetzler, pp. 43-44.
[15]
Ibid, p. 53.
[16]
Ibid, p. 45.
[17]
Ibid, p. 46.
[18]
Ibid, p. 47.
[19]
Ibid, p. 47.
[20]
Ibid, p. 48.
[21]
Ibid, p. 49.
[22]
Ibid, p. 49.
[23]
Ibid, pp. 50-52.
[24]
Ibid, p. 53.
[25]
Ibid, p. 53.
[26]
Ibid, p. 54.
[27]
Ibid, p. 54.
[28]
Ibid, p. 55.
[29]
Vrba, pp. 10-13.
[30]
Rudolf Höß, Commandant of Auschwitz, World Publishing Company, Cleveland 1959, p. 233.
[31]
Danuta Czech (ed.), Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau 1939-1945, Rowohlt, Reinbek 1989; translated into English as Auschwitz Chronicle, 1939-1945, Henry Holt, New York 1989.
[32]
Her Majesty the Queen vs. Ernst Zündel, District Court of Toronto, January 1985, pp. 1532-1533.
[33]
Wetzler, p. 199.
[34]
Ibid, p. 202.
[35]
An interesting video concerning this and other Buchenwald myths may be viewed online at http://www.onethirdoftheholocaust.com/Buchenwald/
[36]
Wetzler, p. 217.
[37]
Ibid, p. 162.
[38]
Filip Müller, Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers, Stein & Day, New York 1979, pp. 121-122.
[39]
Wetzler, p. 162.
[40]
Ibid, p. 162.
[41]
Ibid, p. 200.
[42]
Ibid, p. 209.
[43]
Vrba, p. 271.
[44]
Wetzler, p. 162.
[45]
Her Majesty the Queen vs. Ernst Zündel, District Court of Toronto, January 1985, p. 1479.
[46]
Vrba, pp. 232-244.

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Author(s) Thomas Kues
Title Alfred Wetzler and "The True Story of the Auschwitz Protocol"
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Dates published: 2008-09-11, first posted on CODOH: Sept. 9, 2008, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
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