(Lecture presentation at the Conference on Real History, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 26, 1999)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Christopher Browning is internationally regarded as one of America's leading Holocaust historians by his peers, the academic establishment, the media, and, often times, in court rooms around the Western World, where he has been summoned as an expert witness in both war crimes and anti-revisionist cases on numerous occasions since the 1980's.
Most recently, of course, we have learned that several months from now Professor Browning will appear in the Irving v. Lipstadt Libel Action in London England, as one of several expert witnesses for the defense.
He has prepared a witness statement numbering 67 pages in preparation for the inevitable historical battle, which shall ensue in that litigation. David Irving will, of course, directly address the smears and resulting damages to his academic reputation, his livelihood, and his honour as a historian of the Second World War. He will also address the "state of the evidence" presented by, and the historical methodology employed by these so-called "establishment" historians of that period, these "guardians of the shrine" as it were.
It is alleged that the revisionist arguments ignore reams of evidence in a bid to misrepresent "what really happened and why" to the victims of National Socialist Germany's war-time policies affecting the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. Perhaps some of you read that in the Lipstadt book.
For my part, I have studied all of the evidence I have been able to come across on this subject, with whatever means available to me, in an effort to establish "what really happened and why", and have reported on those investigations in revisionist journals, newspaper articles, and internet debates.
Some of you might have read my critiques of a British historian, described by one English journalist as "arch-rival to David Irving", by the name of Gerald Fleming. Fleming wrote a book titled Hitler and the Final Solution in 1978, one year after Mr. Irving's bestseller Hitler's War appeared.
In the introductory essay, Saul Friedlaender admitted that the reason for the appearance of the Fleming book – and I quote – "seems to have come from British historian David Irving's thesis that Hitler was not aware of the extermination of the Jews of Europe, at least until 1943". [fn 1: see Fleming, Gerald: Hitler and the Final Solution, University of California Press, 1984, p.vii].
Fleming devoted an entire chapter of that book to a most interesting document on Auschwitz, what has become known as the Franke-Gricksch report. I wrote a 20-page article on that report. In particular, my treatment of the so-called Franke-Gricksch Resettlement Action Report appeared in the Journal of Historical Review in Fall 1991 [pp. 261-279], where I believe I demonstrated – using the most elementary techniques of textual criticism – that this document simply cannot be considered a veracious witness account of what is called the "Resettlement of the Jews" as it concerns Auschwitz. Beyond that, I was actually amazed that my researches into this document uncovered the distinct probability that the historians who had presented it as evidence for their thesis either could not see that the document was a falsity [Fälschung], or that they did not want to see this to be the case.
Jean-Claude Pressac, who published a typescript copy of the document with extensive commentary in his 1989 Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, actually listed a number of points where the descriptions within the text were demonstrably false. He also wrote up an ineffectual textual lucubration in an attempt to validate the text, despite recognizing what he called "errors".
Pressac's explanations were inadequate, and I demonstrated that there were many serious problems with the document that he failed to address, as had Fleming.
It's really "too bad". Were that document a veracious contemporary document, it would long have been presented, in the words of Journal editor Ted O'Keefe, as the long-awaited "smoking gun to prove that, yes, there were homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz, there was a German program to exterminate the Jews, and the Führer not merely knew about it, he had specifically ordered it" [footnote 2: Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1991, p.260].
All of these important allegations appeared in that ridiculous text: mention of a Führer-order, homicidal gas chambers disguised as Baden (just like we read in the Soviet propaganda reports and witness statements of the immediate post-war period), and the alleged government program to exterminate the Jews, disguised in the alleged euphemism of "resettlement"
It was too convenient, and I was skeptical. Nevertheless, when I corresponded with Fleming, I was extremely open-minded, and expected to receive information that would altogether erase my skepticism. The research became a Holocaust-in-a-nutshell for me, for, if this document could be shown to be a veracious account, I would simply be hard-pressed to accept the revisionist thesis on Auschwitz.
Fleming had written, in a footnote in his book, that "one of three carbon copies from Alfred Franke-Gricksch's report [Franke-Gricksch was the SS man who allegedly wrote it in May 1943], written on a service mission through the Generalgouvernement between 14-16 May, 1943, is in author's possession" [op. cit. p. 143, fn. 8].
I wrote Gerald Fleming a very respectful letter in which I requested a photocopy of what I thought would be a copy of an original document since, I wrote, "I had been directed to you [Fleming, that is], as I have discerned that Brandeis [University archives] and the US National archives do not possess the carbon". Allow me to explain this. Charles Sydnor, who teaches at a college in Virginia, first mentioned the document in his book Soldiers of Destruction (Princeton University, 1977, p. 377). When I contacted Eric Lipmann, the American officer with the War Crimes Branch of the US Third Army, whose signature can be found on the only known version of the document, I was informed that his document was deposited into the archives at either Yad Vashem or Brandeis, which is where Pressac found it to be. Fleming wrote of a "typescript copy", deposited in the US National Archives by Charles Sydnor [!]).
How had I established the absence of the original document from those archives? Because all that had been presented, or was purported to have been presented, was a very suspect typescript copy of the document, complete with English-language heading of identical typescript to the German text. That is, a document typed by an English speaking person. An alleged copy of a copy. I wanted to see the original, the alleged German document.
Fleming was helpful about his "carbon copy". But in a most startling manner. On March 1 1991, he wrote to me with the following blurb: "I am sending you the photocopy you requested".
I remember being nervous and excited. The moment of truth had literally arrived in the mail. There it was, neatly folded to fit the letter-sized envelope. The words "Archive Fleming", in blue fountain pen, written on the leaf.
I held my breath and opened it. The first words I read on that 2-page document were "Part of a report written by SS-Sturmbannführer Franke-Gricksch on a trip" etc. These words were - in the English language. My heart dropped. A major Holocaust historian had confirmed my suspicions – which were diametrically opposed to that historians' contentions. There was no original. There couldn't be. The text contained too many false or fraudulent claims (such as the existence of a rail spur which was not built until one year after the document had supposedly been written, and impossible daily cremation figures) for there to have been an original.
I'd like to point out that all of the research I undertook confirmed the revisionist case in this regard, and I compiled a rather large sheaf of documents from a variety of sources: the SS Personell Files in the Berlin document Centre, the German Red Cross letter to this officer's widow, post-war newspaper articles, private letters, strange political-autobiographical writings of Franke-Gricksch etc. etc. I repeat, all of the evidence confirmed my skepticism. Nothing, absolutely nothing called my inclinations into question. The conclusion I reached, after an exhaustive investigation, was that this document was a fraudulent text, a fabrication. There it rests.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I mention all of this for a reason. I'm extremely unimpressed with the Holocaust historians. They present their thesis as being essentially "unquestionable" and converge on their exclusionist colloquia, all the while contradicting one another's theses on the most salient of points, and making claims that are not supported by the documents they cite – if they cite any at all. They posture themselves in manners that reek of credulity and dishonesty. Above all, they become stone-cold silent when they are confronted with evidence which does not fit their theses. My exchanges with Fleming and, more recently, Browning, confirm that. (I will present the exchange with Browning a little later in this talk).
This is not what should be expected from the world's authorities in any discipline, let alone one of the most controversial topics of our time, a subject which is desperately in need of honest appraisal and revision, albeit with a certain amount of humility and respect for victims of persecution-and I speak now of past victims and of today's victims of persecution: the scientists and scholars who are asking the right questions, undertaking the right studies for history -the men and women who are uncovering the distortions of the past and the ersatz "history" of the present based on those distortions, which no longer serve to protect the victims of the past.
It is my conviction that, shorn of its political umbrage, revisionism-in-itself is a humanistic undertaking, a discipline which, in its pure form, can foster greater understanding between individuals and nations which were bitter enemies in times past. The guardians of the "shrine of truth" have become the jailers of truth, the enemies of open discussion and reconciliation. We must overcome the "bankruptcy of the traditional history" – which has become both morally and scholarly bankrupt – for Revisionism is a Humanism. (If we cannot hold honestly-held opinions which are not borne of hatred, but of intellectual curiosity, then we have lost our humanity, our legacy of Humanism in the western world. We will lose our love of wisdom, our philosophia, we will wither on the vine of wisdom).
Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd now like to move right into my reason for being here tonight: I would like to make a contribution to our understanding of "what really happened and why", courtesy of Professor Christopher Browning.
Once again, this all began with a letter, an e-mail. Browning's e-mail address was posted on Mr. Irving's website, and I wrote him. A very telling exchange resulted, and I'd like to share it with you. I asked Professor Browning a number of questions about "eyewitness testimony" and requested that he answer these difficult questions. His replies (or non-replies) speak for themselves. Please allow me to read from these exchanges. The first letter was written on February 27, 1999. The subject heading was "Nuremberg document USSR-008", and reads as follows:
Dear Dr. Browning,
I have studied the evidence of the homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz, Poland for many years. Perhaps the subject is not specifically your field of expertise, but I would very much appreciate your helpfulness in clarifying the following:
At the Nuremberg Tribunal, the Report of the Soviet War Crimes Commission of May 6, 1945 (USSR-008) put forth the assertion that approximately 10,000 people were killed at Auschwitz on a daily basis, 279,000 a month, four million total. The often-referred-to testimonies of Rudolf Höss, Filip Müller, Dr. Myklos Nyisli, the alleged report of SS-officer Franke-Gricksch, and other sources corroborate these Soviet figures.
In 1989, Dr. Yehuda Bauer reported to the Jerusalem Post that more like one million people died at Auschwitz, and I understand the historical community does not contest Dr. Bauer's official revision. My question is, if it is understood that the Soviets deliberately inflated the Auschwitz death toll, what amount of credibility should we ascribe to the testimonies which corroborate the discredited Soviet reports which impossibly reported 10,000 daily murders/deaths at Auschwitz? Jean-Claude Pressac has extensively written of the Auschwitz crematoria capacities as having been substantially lower, and more in accord with the revised death toll figures. Also, is the historical community aware that two of the Soviet Commissions' members (Burdenko and Nikolai) were also members of the Special State Commision which submitted the fabricated reports on German guilt for the Katyn massacres (USSR-054)?
In sum, where does the truth lie with regard to Auschwitz concentration camp? What reports or trial testimonies should one consult to find corroboration for the death toll as it is understood today? Pressac has written that the testimony of Nyisli must be divided by four to arrive at a true figure, for example. Forgive me, but I would tend to think that testimonies which corroborate the discredited exaggerations of post-war Soviet intelligence do not serve well as testimonies to "what really happened and why" at Auschwitz.
I understand that the history of Auschwitz concentration camp must be very delicately revised for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, shouldn't future references to the subject note the implausibility of witness claims I've mentioned? If so, how do we interpret the testimony of Rudolf Höss, for example? Can we continue to regard the May, 1943 report of Franke-Gricksch as a veracious account, despite the fact that it mentions 10,000 cremations a day and 500,000 victims at Auschwitz within two months of the Birkenau crematoria becoming functional? I do not question the fact that millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. I do believe, however, that the historical community must find a way to come to terms with the testimonies to falsehood which have been presented as representative of truth in the historical texts to date.
Does it suffice to say "Oh yes, such and such gave a very accurate account of what really happened, we need only divide his or her exaggerated figures by four or five to arrive at a truer figure"?
Is there a single witness testimony or deposition which corroborates the idea that one million people, mostly Jews, were murdered or died over the five year period of the Nazi concentration camp, or that the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoria reduced about two thousand people a day to ashes in peak periods? I only know of the higher, discredited figures having been put forth.
I look forward to your reply.
Browning responded to this letter on April 6, 1999 with the following:
Dear Mr. Renk,
The current figure for deaths at Auschwitz was already reached by Raul Hilberg in his 1961 book by working from the documentary (not eyewitness) base of the number of Jews transported to Auschwitz and a reasonable estimate of the number of survivors. No serious historian (from Reitlinger in the 1950's and Hilberg in the 1960's to the present) has even accepted the Soviet figure of 4 million, which was based on the erroneous method of estimating maximum capacity for burning bodies and then falsely assuming that that maximum capacity was in reality realized every single day that the gas chamber/crematorium complexes were in existence. Given the Soviet understanding of history as functional rather than truthful, once given, the estimate was never corrected or revised. Historians like Hilberg, and the newer estimates, are not based on the eyewitness estimates, because though such witnesses could accurately report that part of the procedure of killing they actually witnessed, they were not in a position to make accurate calculations concerning the overall and cumulative killing operations.
The search for the single witness or single document that proves or disproves all is framing the research question wrongly. It is out of a series of documents, i.e. that different deportation lists, and a reasonable estimate for the countries (especially Poland) for which we do not have accurate lists that the process must start.
I submitted a response to Browning's letter on April 17, 1999:
Dear Dr. Browning,
Thank you for your letter of 6 April (Re: Nuremberg document USSR-008) in response to my letter of 27 February.
In your letter, you explained that "no serious historian (from Reitlinger in the 1950's and Hilberg in the 1960's to the present has even accepted the Soviet figure of 4 million [Auschwitz victims]". Concerning eyewitness accounts, you wrote: "Historians like Hilberg, and the newer estimates, are not based on the eyewitness estimates, because though such witnesses could accurately report that part of the procedure of killing they actually witnessed, they were not in a position to make accurate calculations concerning the overall and cumulative killing operations".
I agree that the Holocaust historians have based their estimates for the number of victims on empirical data such as train deportation lists and, more recently, the declassified documents of the Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung in Moscow.
I would also agree that "the search for the single witness or single document that proves or disproves all is framing the research question wrongly" and that conclusions have been drawn from a confluence of data. I do not question the validity of the historical methodology in the absence of direct proof, and would not expect you or a colleague to refer to a single document or testimony to "prove or disprove all".
In the Report of the Soviet War Crimes Commission of 6 May, 1945, the following is written:
"The Germans killed and burned between 10,000 and 12,000 human beings daily [at Auschwitz-Birkenau]". The Soviet report refers to the testimonies of witnesses Dragon and Tauber ("who worked in a special commando servicing the gas chambers") as ratification for the estimated number of daily victims, based on "theoretical" crematory throughput.
Of Tauber's testimony, Jean-Claude Pressac wrote in his 1989 study (p. 494):
"Here we find the famous multiplication factor of four, of which Dr. Myklos Nyisli made such abundant and lamentable use in his book that his credibility was long contested...we do arrive at the [standard] figure of four million victims in all. This type of imposed falsehood has to be excused, I would stress, because of the political climate of the period 1945-1950".
Pressac is correct to stress the minimum fourfold exaggerations of Tauber, Nyisli, and Dragon (p. 171). As members of the Sonderkommando, these direct witnesses would certainly have been "in a position to make accurate [or "ballpark"] calculations concerning the overall and cumulative killing operations".
Filip Müller, whose book was published in 1979, also referred to "the incineration of up to 10,000 corpses in 24 hours" in the crematoria (p. 97), and SS-officer Franke-Gricksch is alleged to have written in a report for Himmler in May, 1943:
"Current capacity of the "resettlement action" ovens: 10,000 in 24 hours" (Pressac, p. 239).
My question remains: what credibility can we ascribe to these testimonies which can only have served to "validate" Soviet post-war falsehoods as to crematory capacities and actual numbers of victims?
What reports or testimonies should one consult to find corroboration for the death toll as it is understood today?
The aforementioned "imposed falsehood" (Pressac) cannot be excused as resulting from the post-war political climate, because Müller's account was published in 1979 and Franke-Gricksch's account dates from 1943. There appears to be a convergence of evidence to Soviet falsehood and no testimonies or contemporaneous documents I would consider as representative of a death toll of one million, excluding the revised confession of Rudolf Höss, which was not based on documentary sources. This would encompass the bodies of evidence I have mentioned. Should it not be the subject of a future colloquy to address this element of falsehood within such texts?
British historian Gerald Fleming, in assessing the Franke-Gricksch text, wrote:
"The account of the SS officer and the former concentration camp prisoner [Mueller] concur on one fact: that the cremation capacity of the camp reached up to 10,000 corpses per twenty four hours" (from "Hitler and the Final Solution"  p. 145).
It is the citation of such figures as valid which needs redress. Pressac alluded to a "famous multiplier" (pp. 171, 483, 494) which has never been discussed in historical accounts to my knowledge.
If the Holocaust historians have always disregarded the Soviet claim of four million, why have the testimonies cited above been regarded as accurate representations of the number of victims? The Soviets broke the four million figure down to a monthly rate of 279,000 average, and a daily rate of 10,000-12,000.
Professor Browning tried to answer this letter with a very interesting response on April 20:
Dear Brian Renk,
I think the 10,000 per day figure testified to by Mueller and others was the maximum reached during the Hungarian deportations, with the use of open pit burning as well as crematoria. The Soviet report then took this figure and treated it as a daily average over the whole period of the camp gassings, when this figure was a maximum reached only on occasion at the height of the Hungarian deportations. Thus an eyewitness report that claims that 10,000 Jews were killed at Auschwitz in one day is not a confirmation of the Soviet figure of 4 million.
Very appreciative of Professor Browning's willingness to address this matter, I wrote again on April 23, requesting a response to the specific arguments I had made:
Dear Dr. Browning,
Thank you very much for your letters of April 6 and April 20.
In your letter of April 20, 1999, you wrote:
"I think the 10,000 per day figure testified to by Müller and others was the maximum reached during the Hungarian deportations, with the use of open-pit burning as well as cremations. The Soviet report then took this figure and treated it as a daily average over the whole period of the camp gassings, when this figure was a maximum reached only on occasion at the height of the Hungarian deportations".
The Soviet report of 1945 specifically refers to "the total capacity of all five crematoria" as "279,000 bodies per month. Since the Germans also burned great numbers of bodies on pyres, the capacity of the installations for the extermination of human beings in Auschwitz must be considered to be much higher in fact than this figure would suggest".
At the conclusion of the report, the capacity of the ovens themselves as 10,000 per day is augmented by a given monthly capacity for each cremation facility and in the independent reference to the open-air cremations as having occurred prior to the Birkenau crematoria constructs of 1943, when the combined death toll "far exceeded the capacity of the crematory ovens" [of the main camp, which was 340 per day]. The Soviets mention shut downs and repairs to the Birkenau crematoria in connexion with the open-air incinerations at later dates.
The exaggerated figures compiled by the Soviet commission are not, as you suggested, in themselves a problem for the historian – they are regarded as false. The problem lies in the corroborative witness testimony. The Soviet commission's interrogation of Genrich (Henryk) Tauber elicited the following statement:
"All the crematoria incinerated 10-12,000 bodies per day".
Pressac correctly states that Tauber's figures are "connected with the [Soviet] propaganda of the immediate post-war period" (1989, p. 494). The witness S. Dragon was also "following the tendency to exaggerate which seems to have been the general rule at the time of the liberation and which is what gave rise to the figure of four million victims for the K.L. Auschwitz, a figure now considered to be pure propaganda. It should be divided by four to get close to reality [p. 171]".
Myklos Nyisli also expressly referred to the crematorium capacity in itself:
"In all up to 10,000 men could be brought from the gas chambers into the crematory ovens every day".
Filip Müller wrote in 1979:
"The increase in the number of ovens by nearly eight times in comparison to those of the Auschwitz [main camp] crematorium...enabled the incineration of up to 10,000 corpses in 24 hours".
Alfred Franke-Gricksch is alleged to have "reported" in May, 1943 (when only Kremas II and IV were operative):
"Current capacity of the "resettlement action" ovens: 10,000 in 24 hours".
Your hypothesis, namely that "the 10,000 figure testified by Müller and others was the maximum reached during the Hungarian deportations, with the use of open-pit burning as well as crematoria" does not correlate to the specific reference to crematory oven capacity as 10,000/day in each of the testimonies cited.
Tauber and Dragon were interrogated by the Soviet commission and confirmed the Soviet exaggerations verbatim. Franke-Gricksch is alleged to have given the figure as "jetzige Kapazität" (current capacity) when two Birkenau crematoria were not even completed and the main camp facility retired (May 1943). Mueller's statement was published in 1979, and was reiterated in the film Shoah, where he says that up to 3,000 people were gassed and cremated in 3-4 hours, and that this was repeated several times in a single day.
In your letter of April 20, you wrote that "an eyewitness report that claims that 10,000 Jews were killed at Auschwitz in one day is not a confirmation of the Soviet figure of 4 million". The reports mentioned directly refer to unrealistic crematory capacities in themselves and, in this regard, represent a convergence of evidence to a deliberate falsehood. The minimum fourfold exaggeration of overall deaths could not have existed without a correspondingly exaggerated average daily figure.
I would welcome evidence to the contrary.
Browning seems to have been reluctant to respond to this last letter, in which I clarified what it was that I wished for him to address. After having awaited his response for one month, I wrote again, attaching the letter of April 23 to which he had not responded:
Dear Dr. Browning,
I have not yet received your response to my letter of 23 April (attached). Do you disagree with Jean-Claude Pressac's analyses of the testimonies cited as corroboration of the Soviet exaggerations as your previous letter suggests?
The US Army air photos of 1944 do not show evidence of thousands of bodies being cremated in open-air incinerations on any of the known dates and Pressac states (p. 239) that the combined crematoria capacity was about 3,000 per day max.
I think the 10,000 figure should be regarded as an exaggeration regardless of circumstance.
Once again, is Pressac wrong or not? If so, why?
Browning was, evidently, not prepared to carry this correspondence any further. On May 18, 1999 he wrote what would be his final e-mail in this exchange:
Dear Mr. Renk,
The tone of our correspondence seems to have changed from exchange to interrogation, in which you feel entitled to demand answers at your convenience to an unending series of questions.
Now it is my turn to pose some questions. Who are you? What is your agenda?
I did not respond to Browning's final letter. I had respectfully asked very specific questions, and he was clearly not prepared to answer them. I don't think my "agenda" is relevant. I was asking a question about the significance of a specifically false reference in the witness testimony. It's a very interesting exchange. I asked simple questions and received simple answers. However, when it was unequivocally spelled out that Dr. Browning's answers failed to address the subject I was specifically interested in, he did not wish to continue the correspondence. Typical.
Ladies and Gentlemen, on April 8, 1996, there was a Symposium on the best-selling book Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen. Goldhagen's book, as many of you already know, created a storm of controversy when it appeared several years ago. It was, in many respects, the opposite of a humanistic study, written with arrogance and without humility, as Yehuda Bauer put it. Not meant to foster understanding whatsoever. Bauer chastised Goldhagen for having been right to present his question, but wrong about the answer. The question was one of overall compliance of the German nation in the Jewish question, as the title suggested. Goldhagen's sources were culled from the writings of Christopher Browning and Yehuda Bauer, among others. There was little "new material" presented. Konrad Kwiet specifically charged Goldhagen with plagiarizing Browning's Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Goldhagen had merely "put a twist" on the presentation of Browning's evidence in the form of a single-minded anti-German diatribe. Browning criticized Goldhagen for having "operated outside of a historical context" and for having "consequently offered a one-dimensional analysis", what he called "key-hole history". The greatest flaw was its "monocausality" and focus on a presumed "demonological antisemitism". Browning pointed out that Goldhagen had selectively used sources that would only support his pre- formulated conclusion, and ignored evidence which did not support it. His methodology was described as "exclusionist" and "deterministic".
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is some heavy irony here. Browning, who seems to continually find himself in the position of a sort of "historical policeman", especially where revisionism is concerned, as an expert witness in the Zündel trial in 1988, at various war crimes trials around the world, and in the upcoming Irving case, has given birth to a monster. Just the kind of dragon that he tries so hard to invent, and then slay, with respect to revisionist researches: he has inadvertently made the bed for the demonological anti-Germanism that the Goldhagen thesis promotes.
This is a lesson in human understanding. There's nothing humanistic about Hitler's Willing Executioners. It may poison the wells of history for some time, and yet, there it is, the supposed "moderate functionalism" of Christopher Browning, in the eye of the storm.
But what of Browning's apparently principled stand at the Goldhagen symposium? His rejection of the flaw of the Goldhagen thesis in favour of his own self-described "moderate" historiography? Could self-promotion have anything to do with this?
How about this: In the Las Vegas Review-Journal of March 1, 1997, under the title "Squabbling Holocaust Historians Competing for Harvard Position", it is written that Daniel Goldhagen and Christopher Browning "have attacked each other in print over whether ordinary Germans willingly, even zealously, helped the Nazis execute the Jews. Now the two are vying with each other for the newly created post of Chairman of Holocaust Studies at Harvard".
That article almost answers the question for us. And it begs another. Browning's self-promotion as the epitome of a "moderate" Holocaust historian has been paying professional dividends. The candidacy for the Harvard chair, an appointment as scholar-in-residence at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum from 1995-96, work with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and lucrative hourly rates being paid for his expert witness court appearances in ever-increasing frequency. On his latest promotion – just this Fall – to the Chair of History at the University of North Carolina, Browning was quoted as anticipating the "higher pay and a chance to devote more time to research". (Tacoma Morning News Tribune of May 11, 1998)
One might ask: "But aren't these appointments simply an indication of Professor Browning's intellectual brilliance and of his uncanny ability to appraise these difficult questions of Holocaust History in a balanced context"?
I can only say this: you must carefully read Browning with an objective mind. But don't read his work as a textbook as the students in History 120 at the University of British Columbia are right now. You must assess Browning's writings with your critical faculties fully engaged. That's something Holocaust authorities don't like at all, of course. You won't see much of it in the Holocaust history departments at the universities these days, and it's a shame-joyful wisdom (Fröhliche Wissenschaft) dying on the vine.
Browning's 67-page witness statement for the Irving case seems to be full of promise for revisionism, as are his published writings. I think Browning the author has escaped revisionist scrutiny to date for two reasons: First, his books are often hard to find studies in obscure sub-topics such as the The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office, which, as the title suggests, is a study of a specific, not-too-controversial branch of the German bureaucracy and its relationship with, or contribution to, the policies which affected the Jews of German-occupied Europe. The men of Reserve Battalion 101 are an interesting case study for the historian, but are far from engaging for the layman (until Goldhagen infuses his vitriol), and so on. Browning does avoid sensationalism-for-the-sake-of-sensationalism, to his credit.
Secondly, his extensive testimony at the Zündel trial of 1988 has been posted on a number of websites, and the cross-examinations and commentaries are well-known to revisionists. His books don't, at first glance, add much to what revisionists already know about his thesis from that occasion. Also, for example, on Mr. Irving's website can be found an article written by Robert Reis. It is a review of The Path to Genocide, published in 1995.
Reis demonstrated that Browning has not presented any documentary evidence for his contention that there was a German government policy specifically enacting what Browning and others refer to as "the Final Solution to the Jewish question" in the sense of killing. This phrase "the Final Solution" appears in the titles (or sub-titles) of all four of Browning's books, but documentary reference to the phrase in the German documents is rather scarce. In the context of mass murder, it cannot be said to exist at all, with only one questionable exception (the 1946 statement of Rudolf Höss in Cracow). There's nothing in the text of that book, nothing in the footnotes, nothing to confirm that this abstract entity existed, according to Reis.
Remember my remarks regarding the three important components of the Auschwitz document. There are also three main components to the exterminationist theory itself:
- A Hitler-order for mass murder
- The implementation of the alleged order (the governmental enactment or bureaucratization of Hitler's order); and
- The implementation of the government policy (mass murder resulting from the government enactment of the order)
One must necessarily have followed from the other. The historian must establish evidence for the existence of that procession – otherwise the end result, mass murder as a culmination of, and direct enactment of an overall government policy, cannot be said to have existed as such.
The term Endlösung [Final Solution] did, of course, appear in five notable government documents during the war, in four inter-office memoranda and in the Wannsee Protocol. I will refer to these documents in this exegesis.
- A letter from Heydrich to Ribbentrop, dated June 24, 1940
- The "Göring Decree" of July 31 1941
- The Wannsee Protocol of January 8, 1942
- A directive written by Franz Rademacher of the German Foreign Office (Section D III) on February 10, 1942
- The Schlegelberger memorandum
The first document is a suggestion that Ribbentrop participate in discussions on the "Jewish question", specifically mentioning a territoriale Endlösung which would have to be found [eine territoriale Endlösung wird daher notwendig].
The meaning of this proposed "territorial solution" (1940) is disclosed in the documents which follow. Browning doesn't bother mentioning this memo in his writings. He does write, however, on page 15 of his book Fateful Months, that a policy of emigration had been "encouraged by Hitler" to 1941, and that, "In short, Nazi Jewish policy until 1941 does not support the thesis of a long-held fixed intention to murder the Jews of Europe".
Document number 2, Nuremberg document PS-710, the Göring Decree of 1941, was a supplement to an earlier directive of January 24, 1939, which had proposed the solution of the Jewish question through "emigration and expulsion". Heydrich, head of the Security service and Secret Police, had been further commissioned to show Göring the "organizational, factual, and material measures already taken for the intended final solution of the Jewish question".
On page 21 of Fateful Months, Browning writes: "The significance of this document is open to debate", and he mentions the thesis of Martin Brozsat: that it was a "comprehensive program for the deportation of the Jews" to Russia.
In his Foreign Office study of 1978 – which, incidentally, may have been commissioned as a response to Mr. Irving's 1977 thesis, having appeared alongside the Fleming book – Browning wrote that "certainly in early October neither Luther nor Rademacher had any idea that this new final solution meant the deportation of Jews from the various countries in Europe [to the east]". And he writes that a week after Luther's meeting with Heydrich, on October 13, 1941, — and I quote – "Luther was still thinking in terms of deporting Jews from Europe, which was in line with the underlying principles of the Madagascar Plan". So there's nothing in these files which indicates a murderous plan.
In his witness statement of 1999, Browning wrote: "This was not an order for the final solution"; and "No comprehensive draft for a final solution is among the surviving German documents found after the war". I will presume that this last statement applies to the Wannsee Protocol as well.
On Wannsee, Document 3, we read the following in Professor Browning's witness statement of this year: "The evacuations were to be regarded "solely as temporary measures", for "practical experiences" were already being gathered that would be of significance for the "imminent" final solution. Heydrich went on to explain just what he meant by this. The Jews would be utilized for labour in the east". He also writes that "the protocol merely noted cryptically: "Finally there was a discussion of various types of possible solutions".
On page 79 of the 1978 book, Browning wrote that "evacuation to the east had now replaced emigration as a further solutional possibility", which confirms the change in policy which the previously mentioned documents hinted at.
If we hold Professor Browning to his statement about no "comprehensive draft" for the "final solution" having "survived the war", then we can assume that the Wannsee protocol is not the "blueprint" for an overall plan to murder European Jewry that has been ascribed to it by the traditional historians. This despite his citation of Eichmann in 1978 (Browning wrote that the "solutional possibilities" discussed at the conclusion of the conference were described by Eichmann – in his interrogations – as "killing possibilities" [Tötungsmöglichkeiten]. (Browning does not mention Eichmann's statement in 1999. There's a reason for that. Professor Browning cited a number of questionable statements by Eichmann in his 1978 study, and I don't think he would regard him as a credible witness these days. But more on Eichmann later.) The point is there's nothing in the documents themselves.
Document 4, the Rademacher memorandum of February 10, 1942 to Bielfeld of Colonial and North African Affairs, may be the key to the entire series of documents I mentioned. I'll quote Browning on this (see The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office, p. 79): "The war with the Soviet Union had placed other territories at the disposal of the final solution. "Therefore the Führer has decided that the Jews shall be deported not to Madagascar but to the east. Madagascar thus no longer needs to be provided for the final solution".
I say this is the key document because, clearly, the Madagascar Plan had also been regarded as a "final solution", and it's obvious that killing was never part of that plan.
On Document 5, the Schlegelberger memorandum, I recommend that you consult Mr. Irving's website at: http://www.fpp.co.uk/Himmler/Schlegelberger/DocItself0342.html
It is an undated inter-office memo or "minute" which Mr. Irving has deduced to have been written in March or April 1942. The Schlegelberger document mentions that "Reich Minister Lammers informed me that the Führer had repeatedly declared to him that he wants to hear that the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem has been postponed until after the war is over".
So there it is: an absence of a plan to murder, confirmation of a plan to deport to the east as an interim "solution" to a non-homicidal Final Solution. So there's no comprehensive proof for the implementation of the presumed Hitler order, of a "final solution" in the traditional (i.e. genocidal) sense, in the German government documents.
Documents which Confirm Resettlement as Interim Policy: The Lublin Reservation Plan
Ladies and Gentlemen, there are other documents cited by Browning which confirm that emigration had been supplanted by a program of forced expulsion, a resettlement to the occupied regions of the East as an interim measure or "first step" in the "solution of the Jewish Problem". It was a measure that would only be solved when the Red Army was to have been defeated.
In the 1999 Browning statement, we have the Himmler letter to Arthur Greiser, the Gauleiter (district leader) of the Warthegau on September 18, 1941:
"The Führer wishes that the Old Reich [pre-1939 borders] and Protectorate [Bohemia and Moravia] be emptied of Jews from west to east as quickly as possible". Thus Himmler intended, "as a first step" (als erste Stufe) to deport the Jews to the incorporated territories (especially the ghetto of Lodz) "in order to deport them yet further to the east next Spring". (National Archives).
Hitler's intentions as relayed in late 1941 are once again clear. The eastern regions of the Soviet Union, expected to be defeated the following Spring, would become the destination for the European Jews.
This is augmented by another Browning reference. I speak now of an alleged speech by Alfred Rosenberg to the German press on November 18, 1941. It was a press release (not a secretive plan) on "what was happening in the east".
In the speech, Rosenberg went into a feverish tirade about the "biological eradication of the entire Jewry of Europe [eine biologischen Ausmerzung des gesamten Judentums Europa]". This is of course harsh and brutal sounding, and of itself would seem to indicate, by rough translation, a policy of murder-but there's more:
He continued that the Jewish question would not be solved for Germany until "the last Jew has left German territory, and for Europe when not a single Jew lives on the European continent up to the Urals". It would be necessary to expel them over the Urals or eradicate them some other way".
So the context is clear. When the Soviet Union was to have been defeated in the Spring of 1942 – this was prior to Stalingrad and victory was simply expected – the European Jews would be expulsed into Soviet Asia or elsewhere.
And it's also clear that there would be an interim measure, a mass deportation to the Warthegau and other Gaus (districts) in that vicinity, and that those areas would be an interim Jewish reservation area. Once again, Browning, who has laid all the cards on the table, knowing that if he doesn't Mr. Irving will, provides a document from the Riga state archives, which was allegedly written by SS Brigadeführer Franz Stahlecker on August 6 1941.
Stahlecker had sent a draft on the guidelines for the treatment of the Jewish population to Lohse, the Reichskommissar Ostland. The plan sketched out was for "Jewish reservation areas (Judenreservatsionsräume) in the open spaces, where the Jews would be separated by sex to prevent further procreation. Workshops and factories would eventually be constructed there to exploit Jewish labour. The reservations would also facilitate "the later collective deportation of the Jews to a reservation outside Europe". In a handwritten note at the end, Stahlecker noted that the draft "to a great extent touches on general orders from higher authority to the Security Police that cannot be discussed in writing". (Lohse, it should be noted, was never called as a witness in Nuremberg. He was tried in 1948, sentenced to ten years, and released in 1951 for reasons of ill health.)
Browning, of course, considers this document to be deceptive, because it doesn't fit his thesis. But he writes of the Lublin Reservation plan in his 1978 book on page 37, for example. It was discussed, for example, by Rademacher on June 3, 1940 (and I quote):
"The Jewish question is to be decided in accordance with German war aims. One question must be clarified, whereto with the Jews? Conceivable war aims in this regard could be:
a) all Jews out of Europe
b) separation between east and west Jews; the East Jews, which supply the regenerative and Talmudic recruits for the militant Jewish intelligentsia, stay, for example, in the district of Lublin as a pledge in German hands [he means political hostages], so that the American Jews remain paralyzed in their fight against Germany. The West Jews on the other hand, are removed from Europe, to Madagascar, for example".
So there was a plan which had been conceived long before mass deportations began, and it was very secretive. Browning comments:
"Where did Rademacher get his ideas? The Gestapo had never given the Foreign Office the full story of its plans for the Lublin reservation. But Referat Deutschland [Rademacher's department] had sufficient press clippings and correspondence in its files for Rademacher to realize that this was one of the most fashionable solutions being weighed at the time".
In his 1985 book, Browning mentions that the deportations to Lublin had even began in 1939. He writes: "The SS had already been forced to call off deportations to the Lublin reservation in the spring of 1940 because limited but indiscriminate deportations of Jews without careful preparation had proved chaotic and unfeasible".
The Times of December 16, 1939 had also published an article mentioning 10,000 Moravian Jews deported to "the barren district around Lublin" and included a map in its article. The Times reported that more than a million Jews from German-annexed western Polish regions, Poland itself, Germany, Austria, and the Protectorate were slated for deportation to the region.
Browning also wrote, on pages 19-20 (1978), that in October 1939, a Gestapo representative had told Schumburg of the German Foreign Office that "territory in Poland east of Cracow had been inspected in order to concentrate 1.5 million Polish Jews" in the Lublin area.
So Browning is ignoring the suggestion of his own evidence that, even in 1939, the Lublin Reservation Plan had indeed been given serious consideration as an interim "solution of the Jewish problem". The idea that the camps in Eastern Poland were to be a "final destination" is dispelled when we consider these documents of 1939-1942 together.
Realization of the Interim Reservation Plan
On August 8, 1942, The Times reported that western European Jews were being transported to Eastern Poland:
"[…] in conditions of degradation and misery. Their eventual fate is either extermination or wretched survival in the vast eastern ghetto around Lublin, beyond the pale of the German Reich".
It is rather telling that The Times would suggest, in August 1942, that transports of Jews to the east might have resulted in "wretched survival in the vast eastern ghetto", or a possible combination of diminution and survival. That the European Jews were held en masse as political hostages pending the outcome of the eastern campaign was rarely suggested in the Allied press. In the winter of 1942-43, especially following the Allied Declaration of December 17, it had become imperative to write only of a pre-meditated Hitlerian plan of extermination.
The destination for many of these later transports of 1942, I'd like to point out, was Auschwitz, which was an unknown destination in the west at the time. (My reference here is Martin Gilbert, in Auschwitz and the Allies).
In his 1999 presentation, Browning rejects the literal interpretation of the Reservationsraum policy and the plan to simply expulse the European Jews from Europe as [quote] "only for outside consumption". He fails to explain, however, why so many references to this plan were set out in the secret inter-office memoranda of the German government officials, which were not at all "for outside consumption": these were matters of Geheimne Reichssache, or state secrets.
Perhaps most tellingly, he cites a Stahlecker report of October 15 1941 as the key proof for his extermination hypothesis. The report mentions that pogroms [murder] would not suffice to solve the Jewish problem, and that the work of the security police "was the most complete removal possible of the Jews".
It must be noted that many people (perhaps 250,00) were literally removed from the ghettos and put into camps such as Salaspils camp outside Riga, where Stahlecker was posted. And this document pre-dates the shooting actions which occurred in that region in November, so it isn't a very good example of an over-all government policy to murder, since it cannot have alluded to shootings which hadn't yet taken place. The words "the most complete removal possible" as having already taken place indicates something else, because the Riga ghetto was still very populated in October 1941, as were the camps.
At any rate, it's an indication of very harsh, repressive, and murderous measures being carried out in the occupied east, but it doesn't contradict the government plan indicating eventual forced expulsions, as extermination in the sense of indiscriminate mass murder had not taken place.
I have to wonder if Professor Browning is deliberately attempting to obscure the significance of his evidence here for obvious reasons.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have shown that Professor Browning's documents are inconclusive. The "Hitler order" cannot be shown to have existed, something David Irving discovered over 20 years ago, and it's the same today. The documents that do exist show us a plan for "resettlement" and expulsion.
It has been shown that the so-called resettlement program was an interim measure upon its initiation and in its implementation. The Jews of Europe were concentrated in the East in horrendous conditions where hundreds of thousands, if not more than one million, died or were killed throughout the course of the war. And those are separate from the brutal Einsatzgruppen measures, where hundreds of thousands or perhaps more than one million Soviet Jews were killed for the reasons noted in the directives issued to them, and simply for being Jewish in many cases. There was, after all, the directive issued whereby local populations were encouraged to instigate pogroms, for example. There were orders to shoot thousands of enemy civilians. Throughout the eastern campaign, upon liberation from Communist rule and later, in the retreat from the eastern front, in the aftermath of the "Total War" and of Stalingrad in 1942, Jewish civilians suffered brutal reprisals. I do not contest these massacres. Millions of Germans would later suffer the same fate.
The question is, do they fit into the picture of a German government plan to murder all the Jews of Europe? What is the "state of the evidence" for that contention?
The Einsatzgruppen had their specific directives, imposing a very harsh martial law, and many local commanders of those units undoubtedly exceeded their directives. In a number of occupied areas, the local populations undertook their own harsh reprisals against Communist functionaries and sympathizers, real or perceived. But the evidence suggests that there was no overall plan of murder, although documentary sources are almost non-existent in this regard.
Browning admits that, like the presumed "Hitler-order", "there is no surviving copy of pre-invasion orders to the Einsatzgruppen". There is, however, the July 2 1941 summary of the orders, in compressed form, or outline. The document categorizes the individual groups of intended victims. I note that if the Jews of the occupied east were to be murdered indiscriminately, the specific categorizations of intended victims would have been superfluous.
For example, in his Report, Browning cites a report by Einsatzgruppe C, where as many as 80,000 had been "liquidated" in late 1941. Of that number, 8,000 "on the basis of investigation could be proven guilty of anti-German or Bolshevik activities. The remainder were finished off on the basis of reprisal measures".
Were "reprisal measures" an indication of indiscriminate killing as a result of government policy, issued in the directives? Perhaps. But this can only be considered accurate insofar as "reprisal measures" in-themselves are concerned, the deterrence of guerilla warfare in-itself. The orders to specifically shoot Jews in party and state positions and "other radical elements" (saboteurs, propagandists, snipers, assassins, and agitators, etc.) would have been superfluous, as would any individual investigations. They would have simply been ordered to kill them all. And the possibility exists that the reprisals were in many cases the result of local initiatives – reprisals for hardships, brutality, and killings under Communist rule.
Einsatzgruppen Directives: Escalations or Obfuscations
In his Report for the Irving v.Lipstadt libel case, Browning writes:
"From the very beginning it was clear these [Einsatzgruppen] instructions did not limit the shooting of Jews to those strictly in 'party and state positions' but were rather understood and interpreted broadly to encompass the shooting of large numbers of male Jews".
As proof for this contention, Browning cited the mass executions of 526 victims ("primarily Jews") in Tilsit. He writes that the reason given was that "the Jewish population had supported the Red Army". He also notes that Himmler and Heydrich witnessed these measures "by coincidence" and "approved them completely".
It is not clear how the execution of male Jews ("only Jewish women and children were left") for having aided the Red Army as either saboteurs or partisans etc. was evidence of an escalation of the scale of murder as originally issued in the pre-invasion directives. It is clear is that Browning either does not believe these shootings to have been reprisals, or he believes the German security forces had escalated the scale of the killings by executing partisans. However, the reason given for the execution (civilians aiding and supporting the Red Army) and the known resolve to combat and deter guerilla warfare suggests he is wrong.
He has simply created a ruse that the instructions should have been limited to Jews in "party and state positions" (they never were, by definition), and that any victims which were not strictly defined as such are "evidence" of an escalation in the scope of the Einsatzgruppen killings [!].
In another case, Browning writes (Report, p. 13) of adult male Jews "and particularly professionals and community leaders" as having been targeted for execution by Einsatzgruppe C. These victims included "teachers, lawyers, [and] Soviet officials".
Once again, how the target was "broadened" from the pre-invasion instructions, is not clarified. These Soviet-Jewish victims, by definition, would almost certainly have been in Party and State positions, and it is not unlikely that these functionaries of the Soviet State would have acted as "agitators" or "propagandists", etc.
If we look closely at the July 1941 Einsatzgruppe A report on pogrom killings in Latvia, we cannot find an "escalation" in the directives. The pogroms were evidently initiated by the Latvians themselves, as reprisals for what the outraged Latvians saw as Jewish oppression and murder during the Soviet occupation. The Einsatzgruppe B report on the shooting of members of the Jewish intelligentsia in Minsk is also of negligible evidence in the Brownian sense. We must know what political actions these members of the intelligentsia were engaged in. Once again, were these victims perhaps agitators, propagandists, or accomplices in pre-occupation NKVD murders?
On page 14, Browning writes of the "escalation of the killing campaign to include women and children" as having "began in August 1941". But evidence of the first known instance where female partisans were victimized is not evidence that female partisans had previously been exempted from anti-partisan directives. A pre-invasion ruling as such would have been naïve: determined female partisans could have wrecked havoc had they been granted unqualified immunity from measures aimed at wiping out partisan activity. He cites the Magill report on the action in the Pripet Marshes, and specifically, a Reichsführer SS "eplicit order" of August 1 1941, regarding this battle: "All [these] Jews must be shot. Drive the female Jews into the swamp". Once again, does this passage indicate a radicalization of the Einsatzgruppe directives? The Himmler directive actually suggests that heavy partisan activity, involving both male and female partisans, had been encountered in the Pripet Marshes by the 2nd SS Cavalry Regiment. A request for a directive was sought. Himmler evidently directed the Cavalry regiment to implement the same harsh directives as issued to the Einsatzgruppen in June 1941: partisans were to be executed. Also, were the female partisans murdered or were they dispersed?
On page 15, Browning demonstrates that in August or September of 1941 a "radicalization" of Einsatzgruppen aktionen did in fact occur. These measures were referred to as Grossaktionen or "large-scale actions". On September 19, following a decision to "liquidate the Jews of Zhitomir definitively and radically, the ghetto was emptied and 3,145 Jews were shot". Browning does not clarify the differentiation between the "liquidation" [emptying] of the ghetto (the Grossaktion) and the shooting of the remaining 3,145 Jews. For example, on October 22 1941, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency had quoted the Ukrainian newspaper Krakovskie Vesti in this regard, reporting that "the German forces had expelled the Jews to an unknown destination and that in Zhitomir out of 50,000 Jews only 6,000 remained". [footnote 4: Walter Lacqueur, The Terrible Secret (Penguin Books 1980), p.68].
By the Spring of 1942, Browning establishes that the Einsatzgruppen reports were indicating collective punishment (reprisals) for more specific reasons than those set out in the outline of July 2 1941. These included:
- refusing to work
- spreading rumours
- looting or plundering
- supporting the partisans
There are also indications of massacres having included victims for the following reasons:
- insufficient food supplies
- source of infectious diseases
- too old and unfit to work
These latter three categories of victims are particularly reprehensible and indicate a decimation of the civilian Jewish population for reasons which cannot be "justified" in the context of even the strictest martial law or anti-partisan measures. Nevertheless, we must ask several questions regarding these victims: were these inclusions a result of government policy directives or of the brutal excesses of the local commanders? Were these victims included as a Verlegenheitslösung [the way out of an awkward situation] in particular circumstances? Is it an indication of indiscriminate killing? What of the Jews which could be fed, of the healthy and the "fit to work"? How many of these victims? Tens of thousands or several hundred thousands? These are questions which remain unanswerable at present, but which must be carefully considered before the allegation of an indiscriminate policy of murder can be put forth.
Gassing Claims: Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka
Ladies and Gentlemen, we've looked at the state of the evidence for the German government policy and what the final solution appears to have meant in that regard. We've looked at the documents which speak of a resettlement program as an interim plan while the war was being conducted, and the suggestions that the enactment of a resolution, a final solution, would be enacted after the war. The documents cited by Christopher Browning suggest these things. Of course, Browning doesn't think that, and we've looked at why in the textual analyses. The "state of the evidence" is at best ambiguous in this regard, as I've shown, and Browning's thesis is contingent on the idea that these references to a non-murderous overall plan must necessarily be a ruse, a couching of terms in euphemism.
That's an inference. Something which must be ascribed to the evidence, because there's no comprehensive draft that says "when we write of killing, we must substitute that word with something benign". There's no proof that the documents I mentioned about the final solution aren't literal directives and policies. The absence of what Browning calls a "comprehensive draft" for a solution suggests that it was postponed and that the shift from overseas emigration to expulsion to the east was the interim measure. Perhaps a terrible death toll as a result of that measure was intended, perhaps it was inconsequential, perhaps the concentration in the east was an unapologetic mass hostage-taking meant to deter US intervention, or perhaps it was a combination of these considerations. The state of the evidence is inconclusive.
Browning's expert witness report covers what he calls the "implementation of the final solution". He means the murder of Europe's Jews, that this policy was realized in two ways: shooting and gassing.
I haven't contested the mass shootings as having occurred. I'll repeat: it's certain that several hundred thousand people were shot by the Einsatzgruppen. It's the connexion to the alleged "final solution" policy that raises questions. In essence, was it part of an over-all decimation campaign, part of a "final solution"? Was it part of a localized (unrelated) decimation campaign, or were these massacres simply the enactment of a very unrelenting martial law whereby countless thousands of innocents were victimized in the maelstrom of fanaticism, and of reprisals real or imagined?
The state of the evidence does not answer that question decisively, but a combination of the latter two seems to have occurred. Evidence for the presumed enactment of the "final solution" in this regard is negligible, for two reasons:
- documentary evidence for the presumed "final solution" in the Brownian sense is negligible; and
- there are no documents which connect the Einsatzgruppen shootings with that presumed policy, other than documents such as Stahlecker's letter about the interim Reservationsräume and later collective deportation to a reservation outside Europe.
In his 1999 witness statement, Browning presents what he calls "the state of the evidence concerning the implementation of a policy" to gas people "in camps other than Auschwitz, and particularly in the camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
He then tells us [quote]: "documents relating to gassing in Poland [are] scant". He blames this state of affairs on the presumed destruction of evidence, once again, on the part of the German government. That's odd, because the British were known to have broken the SS code by 1941, of course. They knew about executions in Auschwitz, although there were never any mention of death by "gassing" in the decoded messages at Bletchley park. We can presume that this applies to these three camps and the Einsatzgruppen as well. The German railway code was also broken in February 1941, and was able to "follow the movement of trains all over Europe", according to Walter Lacqueur, who also wrote in 1980 [p. 85] that "the trains carrying the Jews to Poland and inside Poland cannot have escaped their attention". Sadly, Laqueur admits that "many of the files of these services have been destroyed" and "material pertaining to army and SS intelligence may never be released".
At any rate, Browning doesn't present a single document to show a connexion between this alleged implementation of a policy of murder with poison gas at these sites and an order to do so – not even peripherally. Following his telling admission that documentary evdence is "scant", Browning informs us that "witness testimony and circumstantial evidence play a much larger role".
Concerning "gas vans", presumably used by the Einsatzgruppen, based on various testimonies, we are directed to the October 25 1941 draft of Dr. Erhard Wetzel of the Ministry of the Occupied Eastern Territories to Reichskommissar Hinrich Lohse in Riga. The document [Nuremberg document NO-365] is said to concern vergasungsapparate, which are described as "gassing vans". A copy was supposedly sent to Viktor Brack in Berlin, who was commissioned to aid in the construction.
This document, the so-called Gas Van Letter, is very suspicious, for a number of reasons. First of all, it's a very convenient one-of-a-kind document. It would provide evidence that the resettlement to the east resulted in death by gassing. It would show that section T4 of the Reich Chancellery was involved in this matter (the dept. was involved in the euthanasia program), and that Eichmann was in agreement with this matter. You've heard the revisionist argument that false statements were penned to gain clemency, and you know that it's viewed with skepticism. This document nevertheless fits that category.
First of all, Wetzel, who had been a judge, had no troubles after the war. He worked for the UN in Cuba, and was never questioned about this matter until his indictment in Hannover in 1961. At his hearing in September of that year, Wetzel said that Viktor Brack "had a gassing apparatus ready for shipment to Riga". He was asked how he, a judge, could account for having been party to murder. To this, Wetzel, the former Lower Court Judge and advisor on Jewish affairs in the Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, replied that he was acting as a deputy, and that he would have been sent to a concentration camp had he refused the assignment. This satisfied the prosecutor, and Wetzel was never brought to trial.
And what of Viktor Brack? He was examined at Nuremberg, and the document was put before him, along with the note that he'd received a copy of it. At the NMT [green series, volume 1, pages 888-889], Brack testified: "I did not receive a copy of it, nor did I even see a copy of that letter, nor do I know this Amtsgerichtsrat Wetzel". When asked if he had conferred with Eichmann on this matter, Brack said he hadn't heard of him. When asked about the matters discussed in the document, he stated simply: "No, I know nothing". When asked about the construction of gas chambers specifically, Brack answered that he "didn't concern [himself] with those matters".
The Chelmno Document
Ladies and Gentlemen, in his 1999 report, Browning cites two documents meant to show that 97,000 people were gassed in gassing vans at Chelmno. But testimonies about this obscure Polish town seem to favour a stone castle as having been the setting of executions. The first document is dated June 5, 1942, and mentions 97,000 people "processed by three trucks" since "December 1941", in Gaswagens. It is an alleged report from the motor pool section of the RSHA. As corroboration for this, he presents a document said to have been written by Arthur Greiser of May 5, 1942, and sent to Himmler. It concerns the "special treatment" of 100,000 Jews which was to be "completed in the next two to three months".
But the gaswagen document really requires that we stretch our imaginations and accept as plausible a rather unlikely scenario. First of all: the dates. On June 5, according to the motor pool document, 97,000 had already been "processed". But the Greiser document of May 1 describes the special treatment of 100,000 people as requiring 2 to 3 months from that date. This would have meant July to September as a completion date for the measures described. This of course rules out the possibility of the assignment as having been completed already on or before June 5, which the motor pool document states emphatically.
So we have a situation where two documents are presented. Two irreconcilable time frames are also presented. The motor pool document, which bears the signature of Just J-U-S-T, explicitly mentions Chelmno, and goes into lengthy detail about CO usage, the difficulties of negotiating the Russian terrain fully loaded, and speaks of the weight of the "cargo" shifting to the back as it struggles to the back door.
I have trouble with documents which employ euphemism in a haphazard manner. The Franke-Gricksch document [written about in my 1991 essay in the JHR] was written in the same tell-tale self-incriminating manner. In the case of the latter document, the setting is a huge crematorium in Birkenau, described as a "large house". Unassuming victims are said to obediently walk into underground rooms beneath the imposing chimney stack. There was the customary "the prisoners are told they will have a nice bath" and "everything proceeds in a perfectly ordinary fashion", and so on. The unassuming victims "arrange their clothing neatly under their respective numbers", just as they would in a health spa, of course, and ready themselves for bathing. Then "particular substances which put people to sleep" are dumped in, and so on leading up to a reference to "the current capacity of the "resettlement action" ovens" as 10,000 a day. Gerald Fleming called it a "fraudulent and cynical white-washing of death by gassing". But it was more than that. It was a cynical and clumsy attempt at forgery, because the supposed real meaning of the document was not very carefully hidden in the text at all, and it was deliberately written that way, and that's what draws our attention to the text. And I have to wonder if these historians are even moderately perceptive when it comes to text or document analysis.
This Chelmno document is written in the same way. There's reference to 97,000 "processed by three trucks in action", and explicit reference to Chelmno.
The report then suggests improvements to the trucks such as:
- narrow slits to improve CO inflow;
- shortening of the length of the vehicle to improve weight distribution (because the "cargo" struggles toward the back during operation);
- putting a hole in the floor to drain the "fluids" – the "thin fluids" would exit during operation, making clean up easier; and
- installation of a strongly protected light, so the "cargo" doesn't bolt to the back when plunged into darkness.
Fleming would call this a fraudulent, cynical white-washing of death by gassing, you see. It's a tell-tale forgery. Forget the descriptions of that "gaswagen" for a moment. It's horrible.
Picture the over-all Aktion being described. 100,000 people are taken far away from the Lodz ghetto and driven around the Russian countryside at Chelmno, (yes, the document describes the terrain as Russian although Chelmno was well inside Poland). People are stuffed inside the back of a truck, but not so tight, for they move toward the back doors when plunged into the darkness, and struggle to the back during their drive. The truck is piping its own exhaust into the box not quite full of people, who are struggling toward the back, evidently making a mess. The human cargo is driven around Chelmno until they can no longer breathe. The victims are removed at a burial site, and the three trucks are cleaned and loaded with successive groups and repeat this insane procedure until 100,000 [!] people have been murdered. The ridiculousness of this alleged procedure is amplified when we consider that only 30-40 people would have fit into the van at a time. Okay, next.
Browning on Eichmann and Gerstein
With regard to Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, Browning writes: "no contemporary document specifically states how the Jews sent to these three camps were killed".
But there are the testimonies of "eyewitnesses". On page 49-50 of the witness statement, Browning cites the interview Eichmann gave to the Dutch journalist Sassen. This material appeared in Life Magazine in 1960.
Eichmann supposedly went to Belzec, where there was an "airtight" hut where "Jews would be killed by carbon monoxide exhaust from a Russian U-Boat motor that would be attached. The camp was still empty and the motor was not yet there". Eichmann remembers this being the Fall of 1941, because "the autumn colours were at their peak".
Browning doesn't mention what he wrote in his 1985 book (on page 24) regarding Eichmann's "memory technique". Similarly, in that work, Eichmann is cited as supposedly remembering an execution in Minsk after his visit to Belzec because (and I quote): "the weather had turned very cold, for he was wearing a long leather coat on which bits of a baby's brains were splattered and had to be cleaned off". Then Eichmann is quoted in the same passage by
Browning as returning "through Lemberg, where he witnessed blood spouting in little geysers from a mass grave" [!]. So Eichmann describes an improbable scene, followed by an even more improbable scene, followed by yet another highly improbable scene. Browning questions nothing about these Eichmann "recollections".
Browning also refers to the statements of one "covert anti-Nazi who infiltrated the SS and became head of the Disinfection Services of the Waffen-SS" [I refer to Kurt Gerstein]. He recounts how Gerstein delivered Zyklon-B to Globocnik in Lublin, who "falsely boasted of a recent visit by Hitler", says Browning, not even mentioning the slight possibility that Gerstein had invented that false report. Browning credulously reports Gerstein's statements: he went to Belzec, witnessed the arrival of a transport of Jews from Lwow, of whom 1,450 were dead on arrival, and then witnessed a gassing which took 3 and a half hours, because the engine which supposedly piped in the CO did not start. Browning also reports that Gerstein claimed to have gone to Treblinka and "saw veritable mounds of clothing and underwear, 115 to 130 feet high". Gerstein also claimed that a Dr. Wilhelm Pfannenstiel gave a speech about the "greatness of the work" being done at Treblinka.
Our self described "moderate functionalist" historian mentions that several of these Gerstein statements were described as "false" and "full of exaggerations" by Professor Wilhelm Pfannenstiel, who is alleged to have accompanied Gerstein to Lublin. However, Browning states that Pfannenstiel "did not go to Treblinka after visiting Belzec and thus did not give a speech there."
Presumably, Browning doesn't question the mounds of clothing that were allegedly "115-130 feet high" at Treblinka, and why should he? He is altogether uncritical of a whole slew of demonstrably false and unverifiable "gassing" claims put forth by the witnesses he cites.
It can now be seen that my study of the thesis of Christopher Browning confirms the following: The exterminationists can be seen to seek out and refer to documents which appear to confirm their thesis. Obvious forgeries, documents which support an opposite thesis, and questionable and ambiguous texts are the stuff of which this history is compiled. One can only conclude that the "state of the evidence" is good for revisionism.
The evidence presented by Christopher Browning in his books, articles, and expert witness statements is also a windfall for revisionism.
Additional information about this document
|Author(s):||Brian A. Renk|
|Title:||Christopher Browning: The State of the Evidence For the 'Final Solution'|
|First posted on CODOH:||Sept. 24, 1999, 7 p.m.|
|Comments:||Lecture presentation at the Conference on Real History, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 26, 1999|