Jerzy Bielski and the Auschwitz Gas Chambers

Letter 13 September 1999 to the "Sydney Morning Herald" on George Ryba article
Published: 1999-10-31

In the context of the controversy over the arrest of Australian citizen Dr. Fredrick Töben in Germany, which I have reported elsewhere, the 5 May 1999 Sydney Morning Herald published an article by Sydney, Australia resident George Ryba. The gist of Ryba's article was as follows. He was a Polish political prisoner at Auschwitz for 3-1/2 years. As an electrician he worked in the gas chambers and the crematoria, on occasion being obliged to repair wiring in gas chambers that had been ripped off by gassed victims whose bodies were "still convulsive" while he worked there. "Dozens of (his) Jewish friends in the camp died by gassing." These events were described by him when he testified against Ernst Kaltenbrunner (head of the security functions of the SS, including the Gestapo and SD) and Oswald Pohl (concentration camps chief). He wrote that his "testimony withstood long and forceful cross-examination by dozens of the best German lawyers defending the Nazi elite." Nevertheless, he is opposed to the arrest of Töben.

There are many observations that can be made about Ryba's remarks and this will not be the last of this matter. I was particularly provoked by Ryba's claim that there had been meaningful cross-examination of his gassing claims. Such has not been my experience in studying this subject. Thus on 13 September I wrote the following letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, for publication:

In connection with the arrest of Dr. Fredrick Toben in Germany, George Ryba of Sydney authored an article (5 May) reporting that at the Nuremberg trials he gave evidence of mass exterminations at Auschwitz, and that his "testimony withstood long and forceful cross-examination" by defense lawyers.

As the author of a book (Hoax of the Twentieth Century) that denies that such exterminations took place there, I was interested in Ryba's testimony. My reaction was delayed by the end of the academic year at Northwestern University, where I teach electrical engineering, by my summer vacation, and by delays in getting a copy of Ryba's testimony.

I contacted Ryba by telephone in August. He told me that his name then was Jerzy Bielski, and thus I was able to find the testimony he gave in 1947 at the trial of concentration camps chief Oswald Pohl (he told me that the testimony he gave at the trial of Ernst Kaltenbrunner was in closed session only).

The letters column of a daily newspaper is not the place to thrash out historical issues, so I will confine my comments to only one point. There was indeed long cross examination of Bielski by the defense lawyers, but their questions had to do only with his identification of defendants. In proceeding thus, the lawyers were only doing what, in their view, they were hired to do.

It never occurred to these lawyers to probe Bielski on things that, for us, cry out for elaboration. For example, Bielski testified that "we could always speak with the people who were going to be gassed". No lawyer asked Bielski the obvious question: did he tell these Jews what was supposedly going to happen to them? Nor were there any other questions aimed at elaborating this amazing scenario.

There exists an inescapable handicap when trying to draw historical inferences from trials of individuals: the people running such affairs are not, and are not supposed to be, interested in history.

Very truly yours,
Arthur R. Butz

The newspaper, to this date, has not published my letter.

I should remark on how such testimonies are studied. After the main Nuremberg trial of Göring, Kaltenbrunner et. al. the U.S. held 12 more trials at Nuremberg of high ranking Germans. "Case 4" among them was the "Concentration Camps Case", whose principal defendant was Oswald Pohl.

The transcripts of these trials are not easily available but there exists a 15 volume set entitled Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals, published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in 1950, consisting mainly of excerpts of testimonies and documents.

It is perilous to draw conclusions from excerpts, so I had to take the time and effort to obtain the complete transcript of the Ryba/Bielski testimony. However the Bielski testimony that I quoted in my letter is to be found in vol. 5 of the published set (p. 662).

Here I will only add some remarks on Bielski's claim that "we could always speak with the people who were going to be gassed". The scenario suggested is impossible to believe. If workers such as Bielski were able to speak to victims awaiting gassing, then surely there would have been occasions when they would have learned what awaited them in the "gas chambers". Yet there is no record that a riot of an arriving transport ever took place at Auschwitz.

There were a few points during the Bielski testimony when it seemed that the defense lawyers might be starting to pursue the question of the reality of the events being claimed, but their lines of questioning quickly turned to identification of defendants. Pohl's lawyer was Dr. Alfred Seidl, who had earlier represented Hans Frank in the main Nuremberg trial, and also Rudolf Hess in that trial's later stages. The Bielski testimony that I quoted in my letter came during cross examination by Seidl, who had cited the earlier testimony of Auschwitz camp commandant Rudolf Höss, to the effect that the claimed exterminations were carried out in the greatest secrecy. Here is a larger excerpt of Bielski's reply:

.... And when we worked there as electricians — and I saw the gas chamber several times — then we could always speak with the people who were going to be gassed; those who had just arrived from Holland and France and Hungary; and we could see everything. Then, I am not the only one who can actually assert that — but I can get you all the men from my Commando to testify to that effect, who will state exactly the same things as I am stating. I, myself, worked in crematoria, and I worked in the gas chambers, and I worked everywhere. For us there was no single place where we could not enter. We carried on all the work there. And apart from that what Höss said, namely, that only SS could approach the camp or the territory around it, it is not true either, because there were approximately five thousand civilians there. They worked within the premises of the camp — if not right near. And they worked in the various installations and the works that were carried out there, and that was their particular firm where these people were assigned to. Apart from that, several high-ranking officers came from outside of the camp and we all knew about it. We knew that Höss and the others came to see the camp.

In other words, if they just came out of pure curiosity, then they had to see to it that Höss could get the permission to come and visit the camp. We saw several curious SS men, and Germans who came into the camp.

Such provocative claims should elicit certain obvious questions. Did he tell these Jews what was supposedly going to happen to them? Did anybody else? Were there any riots? If he "could see everything", would he describe the gassing procedure in all details? Did the victims disrobe in the gas chamber or in another room? Did he see the corpses of any people he had spoken to shortly before? Does he remember the names of any of these people? How long did the cremation process take? In the cremation process, were more than one corpse introduced into a muffle at one time? How many muffles were there?

Seidl asked no such questions. Rather, here is his reaction to the above testimony: "That is enough. What kind of uniform did the defendant Oswald Pohl wear at the time?"

In the published testimony excerpts cited above, only the phrase "That is enough" is reproduced from that.

Reading the transcripts of such trials is a venture in incredibility.

On the question of who was right, Höss or Bielski, on the question of secrecy in the reception of transports, I side with Bielski. In my book Hoax of the Twentieth Century I discussed the coerced Höss "confession" at length. I believe that SS personnel, inmates assigned to jobs that required their relative freedom to move about the camp, and civilian workers, were able to talk freely with people on incoming transports. Those people were in no imminent danger. If they had been, then Auschwitz would not have been, during the war, The Terrible Secret in Walter Laqueur's phrase.


31 October 1999.


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Author(s): Arthur R. Butz
Title: Jerzy Bielski and the Auschwitz Gas Chambers, Letter 13 September 1999 to the "Sydney Morning Herald" on George Ryba article
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Published: 1999-10-31
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 29, 1999, 7 p.m.
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