Christopher Browning and the "Nazi Gas Chambers" of Belzec

Published: 2009-01-01

Christopher R. Browning is Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. He was the Canadian government’s most important expert witness at the 1988 Holocaust trial in Toronto, where Ernst Zundel was prosecuted for allegedly publishing false news about the Jewish experience during WWII. He also testified as an expert witness in the David Irving--Penguin Books/Deborah Lipstadt libel trial in London in 2000, the most famous Holocaust court case since the Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel.

The author of numerous books and papers on Nazism and the Holocaust, he is widely considered to be a foremost authority on the alleged Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Considering his stature among Holocaust academics, one should take very seriously whatever he writes about the “Nazi gas chambers.”

Belzec was a WWII German concentration camp located in eastern Poland. According to the traditional Holocaust story, Belzec had two phases. Wooden “gassing barracks” were built around November 1941 for the March-June 1942 phase, and then, “improved” gassing barracks on a concrete base were built in June 1942 for the second phase. It is alleged that up to 800,000 Jews were murdered here.[1]

In his 2004 book, The Origins of the Final Solution, Browning described Belzec in these terms:

“In technology and personnel it was the most direct heir of the euthanasia institutes, employing stationary gas chambers and carbon monoxide. However, as at Chelmo [another alleged extermination camp in Poland], the carbon monoxide was produced in engine exhaust and not delivered in chemically pure form from steel bottles as at the euthanasia institutes. Belzec thus represents another variant in gassing technology and extermination camp design.”[2]

One of Browning’s key pieces of evidence for mass exterminations at Belzec is the post- war testimony of former SS Sergeant Josef Oberhauser. Buried in a footnote Browning provides us with a reason to be skeptical of Oberhauser’s testimony. He accuses Oberhauser of falsifying the dates of events in order to create an adequate defense at the “Belzec trial” in Germany in the 1960s. Specifically, he writes that Oberhauser is guilty of

“clearly falsifying chronology to give the impression that until August 1942—i.e., for the period for which he was on trial—only a small number of test gassings were being carried out in a single gas chamber capable of holding 100 people.”[3]

Again buried in a footnote we learn that another Holocaust historian provided a different and even contradictory version of events at Belzec. According to Michael Tregenza,

“there were two tests of the gas chambers in February 1942, the first with Zyklon B [hydrogen cyanide gas] and the second with bottled carbon monoxide. Among the victims of the second test were German-Jewish psychiatric patients deported from Germany and local Jews from Piaski and Izbica. Only then was a Soviet tank motor installed to produce carbon monoxide from exhaust gas.”[4]

So, according to Browning bottled carbon monoxide was not used at Belzec; the deadly gas was produced from engine exhaust. But according to historian Tregenza, bottled carbon monoxide was originally employed at Belzec, in addition to Zyklon B/hydrogen cyanide. This is no minor discrepancy. In any murder investigation the nature of the murder weapon is an important issue.

Browning committed a serious “sin of omission.” He failed to inform the readers of The Origins of the Final Solutionthat archeological investigations of Belzec concentration camp in the late 1990s found no trace of the alleged homicidal gas chambers. Historian Robin O’Neal, a firm believer in the traditional Holocaust narrative and one of those who took part in the archeological investigations of Belzec, admitted:

“We found no trace of the gassing barracks dating from either the first or second phase of the camp’s construction.”[5]

For the Irving-Penguin Books/Lipstadt trial, Browning relied upon the testimony of “Holocaust survivor” Rudolf Reder to help “prove” that the Belzec gas chambers existed.[6] Once again, Browning never informed his readers that archaeological investigations of Belzec found at least some of his testimony to be unreliable. Chief archaeologist Andrzej Kola:

“The witness [Rudolf Reder] informs that in the second stage of the camp functioning the gas chamber was located directly close to the graves. According to him, however, the chamber was made of concrete. The excavations carried out in that area did not prove any traces of brick or concrete buildings, which makes that report unreliable.”[7]

In a court document prepared for the Irving-Lipstadt trial in London, Browning put forth his argument as to why human testimony “proves” that the mass extermination of Jews took place at Belzec and other camps. He admitted that “eyewitness” reports of mass exterminations at Belzec are contradictory and somewhat unreliable, but nevertheless, we should believe them anyway. He wrote:

“Once again, human testimony is imperfect. The testimonies of both survivors and other witnesses to the events in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka are no more immune to forgetfulness, error, exaggeration, distortion, and repression than eyewitness accounts of other events in the past. They differ, for instance, on how long each gassing operation took, on the dimensions and capacity of the gas chambers, on the number of undressing barracks, and on the roles of particular individuals. Gerstein, citing Globocnik, claimed the camps used diesel motors, but witnesses who actually serviced the engines in Belzec and Sobibor (Reder and Fuchs) spoke of gasoline engines. Once again, however, without exception all concur on the vital issues at dispute, namely that Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were death camps whose primary purpose it was to kill in gas chambers through carbon monoxide from engine exhaust, and that the hundreds of thousands of corpses of Jews killed there were first buried and then later cremated.”[8]

Browning is wrong! His claim that--without exception all witnesses concur on the vital issue that Jews were murdered in gas chambers using carbon monoxide from engine exhaust—is demonstrably false. There are “eyewitnesses” who claimed that Jews were murdered en masse in “electrocution chambers” at Belzec, and not with the use of “gas chambers.” Browning failed to inform his readers of the serious problems such false eyewitness testimony raises.

As Browning’s colleague Robert Jan van Pelt pointed out, the Polish Fortnightly Review, an English-language newspaper published by the Polish government in exile during WWII, put forth a July 10, 1942 description of the phony “electrocution devices” whereby Jews “were murdered en masse at Belzec.” It stated:

“The men go to a barracks on the right, the women to a barracks situated on the left, where they strip, ostensibly in readiness for a bath. After they have undressed both groups go to a third barracks where there is an electrified plate, where the executions are carried out.”

Professor van Pelt implicitly admitted that the “electrocution chambers” of Belzec never existed.[9]

In December of 1942, the United Nations Information Office released a statement in regard to the alleged fate of Jews in German-held Europe. It concluded:

“The means employed in deporting from the ghetto all those who survive murders and shooting in the street exceeds all imagination. In particular, children, old people and those too weak for work are murdered. Actual data concerning the fate of the deportees is not at hand, but the news is available—irrefutable news—that places of execution have been organized at Chelmo and Belzec, where those who survive shootings are murdered en masse by means of electrocution and gas.”[10]

Here, the pro-Allied United Nations Information Office claimed they had “irrefutable news” that Jews were murdered en masse by electrocution at Belzec. We now know that this is false, as the “mass-electrocution-of-Jews” story has been quietly abandoned.

In February 1944, the New York Times published a false eyewitness report of “electrocution chambers” at Belzec. Here is what is stated:

“A young Polish Jew who escaped from a mass execution in Poland with the aid of false identification papers repeated today a story that the Germans operated an ‘execution factory’ in old Russian fortifications in eastern Poland. The Jews were forced naked onto a metal platform operated as a hydraulic elevator which lowered them into a huge vat filled with water up the victims’ necks, he said. They were electrocuted by current through the water. The elevator then lifted the bodies to a crematorium above, the youth said.”

The article concludes:

“The youth said he personally had seen trainloads of Jews leave Rawna Luska in eastern Poland in the morning for the crematorium at near-by Beljec [sic] and return empty in the evening. He was told the rest of the story, he said, by individuals who escaped after actually being taken inside the factory. The fortifications, he added, were built by the Russians after they occupied eastern Poland.”[11]

The “authoritative Holocaust classic,” The Black Book, published a very detailed description of the operation of these phony “Belzec electrocution chambers” in 1946.[12]

The reader should ask himself why Browning ignored mentioning these “electrocution chamber” reports in his books and essays. If the evidence that "proves" that Jews were electrocuted en masse is bogus, isn’t it also possible that the "evidence" that "proves" that Jews were murdered in "gas chambers" is also bogus, or at least very suspect?

Indeed, it could be argued that the false “eyewitnesses” to the “electrocution chambers” are more “credible” than Browning’s “eyewitnesses” to the “carbon monoxide chambers.” Browning himself wrote:

“Historians almost invariably prefer contemporary documents to after-the-fact testimony.”[13]

After all, the “eyewitnesses” to the “electrocution chambers” were contemporary “observers” of the bogus “electrocution chambers.” They were not prisoners in a 1960s, years- after-the-fact trial who were coerced into giving testimony claiming they witnessed gas chambers for legal/tactical reasons. By way of contrast, in The Origins of the Final Solution Browning builds his case on the post-war testimony of a former German soldier (Josef Oberhauser) who was on trial, and thus, from a legal standpoint had no choice but to give credence to the “gas chamber” legend.[14] The government of Germany is founded upon the “Nazi gas chamber” legend and to dispute it in a German court is impossible.

Mainstream historians have admitted there is no archeological evidence to support the claim of homicidal gas chambers at Belzec. The eyewitnesses are mutually contradictory as to the identification of the alleged murder weapon, as some claim there were “electrocution chambers,” others claim there were “gas chambers” that utilized diesel engine engine exhaust, while still others claim it was gasoline engine exhaust. Finally, Holocaust historian Ian Kershaw has pointed out in his recently published tome that rumors of “gas chambers” were spread by Allied radio sources.[15]

These three lines of evidence support the Revisionist theory that the mass murder of Jews at Belzec with “gas chambers” is a propaganda myth, deliberately spread by the enemies of Germany for political ends.

Here is my most important point. I deliberately avoided using any Holocaust Revisionist material (such as Carlo Mattogno’s thorough study of Belzec) to bolster my case. I limited myself to just mainstream Holocaust sources. If the reader simply consults “academically acceptable” sources, he will find enough evidence to reject the claim of “homicidal gas chambers” at Belzec.


Robin O’Neil, “Belzec—the ‘Forgotten’ Death Camp,” East European Jewish Affairs, Winter 1998, pp. 49-62.
Christopher Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, (University of Nebraska Press, 2004), p. 419.
Ibid., p. 543n163.
Ibid., p. 543n162.
O’Neil, p. 55.
Online: See “Eyewitness Testimony concerning Gassing at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka: Fifth Category.”
Andrzej Kola, Belzec: The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaelogical Sources: Excavations 1997-1999 (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2000), p. 61n28.
See footnote 6.
Robert Jan van Pelt, The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial (Indiana University Press, 2002), p. 145.
The New York Times, December 20, 1942, p. 23.
The New York Times, February 12, 1944, p. 6.
The Black Book: The Nazi Crimes Against the Jewish People (Nexus Press, 1974), p. 313. This edition is a reprint of the 1946 edition.
Christopher Browning, Postwar Testimony and Holocaust History (University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), p. 4.
Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution, pp. 419-420.
Ian Kershaw, Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (Yale University Press, 2008), p. 203.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Paul Grubach
Title: Christopher Browning and the "Nazi Gas Chambers" of Belzec
Published: 2009-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Dec. 30, 2008, 6 p.m.
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Comments: Review of: "The Origins of the Final Solution"
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