New Light on Dr. Miklos Nyiszli and His Auschwitz Book
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Charles Provan is a printer by trade and a lay theologian by avocation. Ernst Zündel has called him “a revisionist who believes in the gas chambers.” Provan is the author of No Holes, No Holocaust?, an analysis of the ruins of the roof of an alleged gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This essay is an expanded version of the author’s lecture to IHR’s 13th conference (May 2000).
In 1951, portions of a memoir attributed to a former inmate of Auschwitz, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, appeared in France. Nyiszli’s account caught the eye of another former prisoner of the Germans during the Second World War, Professor Paul Rassinier. He was struck by the exaggerations and absurdities of Nyiszli’s story, which allowed the reader to conclude that the Nazis had gassed twenty-nine million people at Auschwitz over four and a half years, and that the gas chamber at Birkenau had been one meter wide. He also made careful note of the discrepancies between subsequent editions in French, German, and English. It was Rassinier who fired the first shots over the historicity of the book. He wrote in 1961: “The versions that have been made public are divergent and contradict one another from one page to the next. The author speaks of places he obviously never visited, etc….” In 1964, Rassinier broadened his critique to the existential, declaring that “[E]ither Dr. Miklos Nyiszli never existed, or if he did exist he never set foot in the places he describes.”
Subsequent revisionist writers have had much to say about this unusual book. Wilhelm Stäglich called it “in part, simply absurd.” Professor Robert Faurisson has endorsed Rassinier’s characterization of Nyiszli’s book as a “rascally trick.” Dr. William Lindsey called Nyiszli “legendary.” Mark Weber called Nyiszli’s claims “fantastic.” Ditlieb Felderer wondered: “Seeing so little is correct about Nyiszli and about that which he writes – what then is the real truth about Nyiszli?” Arthur Butz refers to “the writings attributed to one Miklos Nyiszli, which we should not accept on anything, least of all a number.”
When I read Henri Roques’s excellent “Confessions” of Kurt Gerstein about ten years ago, I was already a believer in the revisionist method. After conducting various experiments on gas chamber capacity and diesel emissions, I became convinced that millions of Jews had indeed been gassed during the war, chiefly at the Operation Reinhard camps. This made me simultaneously a revisionist and an exterminationist, or, as Ernst Zündel put it several years ago, a revisionist who believes in the gas chambers. Intrigued by the numerous criticisms of Dr. Nyiszli in the revisionist literature, I decided to undertake a study of his book to determine if it could be substantiated. I got more than I bargained for.
In Search of the Historical Nyiszli
The most radical of the revisionist questions struck me as very important: Did Dr. Nyiszli even exist? As I pondered how to answer it, I recalled seeing, in an early edition of Auschwitz, a small photo of the title page of Miklos’s Nyiszli doctoral dissertation, Selbstmordarten auf Grund des Sektionsmaterials des Breslauer Gerichtsarztlichen Instituts von Juni 1927-Mai 1930 [Types of Suicide, Based on the Autopsy Material of the Breslau Forensic Medicine Institute from June 1927–May 1930]. This dissertation was written for the Medical Faculty of the Silesian Friedrich Wilhelm University in Breslau, and its author given as “Nicolaus Nyiszli” (“Miklos” being the Hungarian version of “Nicolaus,” or Nicholas). Nyiszli refers several times in Auschwitz to having attended medical school in Germany. He writes, “I had spent ten years in this country, first as a student, later as a doctor …” (p. 23) and “Suddenly I recalled another scene; fifteen years before, the Rector of the Medical School of Frederick Wilhelm University in Breslau shook my hand and wished me a brilliant future as he handed me my diploma, ‘with the congratulations of the jury’” (p. 27). (All citations from the English-language version of Auschwitz in this article are taken from the 1997 edition, published by Arcade [New York], and distributed by Little, Brown.) Nyiszli’s recollections seemed to jibe with his purported dissertation, so I decided to search for a copy. My earlier research had acquainted me with the National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints, which enumerates libraries which hold the listed books. I checked the catalog, and there it was: a single copy of Nyiszli’s dissertation, at Yale’s Whitney Medical Library. I requested an inter-library loan, and waited, and waited some more. A second request earned me only more waiting. Finally, I called the library myself.
This frustrated, and frustrating, phone call unlocked the Nyiszli case for me. After being transferred from extension to extension, I finally spoke with a librarian who told me that Yale definitely had the publication: he had seen it. But, he told me, the section of the library where it was shelved was being rearranged, and the books were still out of order, making the Nyiszli dissertation unavailable. In my disappointment, I informed the librarian that I had hoped to examine the document to establish that Dr. Miklos Nyiszli had actually existed. At this the librarian exclaimed, “Of course he existed! Two of my friends knew him personally, and I remember reading his account of Auschwitz in a Budapest newspaper when I lived in Budapest shortly after the war.” I was floored: even though Yale couldn’t locate its copy of Dr. Nyiszli’s doctoral dissertation, all of a sudden I had several new lines of attack.
The librarian went on to suggest that perhaps a copy of the dissertation had been received by the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. I called them, and he was right: there was a copy of Selbstmordarten in their History of Medicine Division. I obtained a photocopy, and had it translated.
The title page of Nyiszli's medical dissertation. Pictured in early editions of "Auschwitz," it proved to be authentic.
Nyiszli’s 1930 Medical Dissertation
Nyiszli’s dissertation is a study and statistical analysis of suicide victims in the Breslau area over a three year period. Published in 1930, it classifies and analyzes each autopsied victim according to sex, method of suicide, and medical conditions and personal circumstances which might have inclined the victim to take his or her own life.
The dissertation contains references which connect with those in Auschwitz. Nyiszli writes, “In conclusion, I should like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Professor Dr. Reuter and Professor Dr. Strassmann for the support and stimulation they provided for my work.” A Dr. Strasseman [sic] is mentioned in Auschwitz: “No one present knew that I had spent three years at the Boroslo [sic] Institute of Forensic Medicine, where I had had a chance to study every possible form of suicide under the supervision of Professor Strasseman” (p. 35).
The final page of the dissertation supplies some biographical particulars about the author:
I, Nicolaus Nyiszli, was born on June 17, 1901 in Simleul-Silvaniei (Transylvania). I attended elementary school for four years and the Humanistic Roman Catholic Episcopal Higher Gymnasium in Simleul-Silvaniei (Transylvania). In autumn 1920 I passed the Abitur [final examination].
First I studied medicine for two semesters in Klausenburg (Romania); then for three semesters in Kiel; from 1925 to 1927 I did not continue my studies because of the bad economic situation. In the summer semester of 1927 I was able to resume my studies and studied medicine in Breslau. At the end of the summer semester of 1927 I passed the preliminary examination for the medical degree, and in the middle of April 1930 I passed the state medical examination, both examinations at the Silesian Friedrich Wilhelm University in Breslau. I am a Romanian citizen.
Two Postwar Acquaintances of Dr. Nyiszli
With the help of the librarian at Yale, I was able to contact the two men who had known Dr. Nyiszli after the war. One of them had been a friend of Dr. Nyiszli, and recalled once visiting Nyiszli and finding him at work on his Auschwitz book. This surprised me, because at that time I was proceeding under the hypothesis that Nyiszli’s book had in fact been written by someone else.
This, I thought, might explain such gross errors the “four elevators” at Birkenau crematorium 1. According to Auschwitz:
… they dragged the slippery bodies to the elevators in the next room. Four good-sized elevators were functioning. They loaded twenty to twenty-five corpses to an elevator. The ring of a bell was the signal that the load was ready to ascend. The elevator stopped at the crematorium’s incineration room …(p. 53).
As most readers doubtless know, the crematorium Nyiszli is describing has only one elevator, as is apparent from the blueprints and the present-day ruins, which I have visited myself. Taking my cue from errors in several manuscripts of the Old Testament transcribed from dictation, I supposed that the most reasonable explanation for Nyiszli’s writing “four large elevators,” when there was only one, was as follows. In Hungarian, I had learned, Nyiszli’s text has “Négy nagy teherfelvonogep.” “Négy” means “four.” “Nagy” means “large.” Now, if Nyiszli had actually lived in crematorium 1 at Birkenau, as he claims, he would have to have known that there was only one elevator. To explain the mistake in Auschwitz, I supposed that as Nyiszli spoke of a “large, large” elevator, his transcriber wrote the similar sounding (in Hungarian), but mistaken, “four large elevators” (Hungarian: “Nagy nagy teherfelvonogep”).
Now, however, a personal friend of Nyiszli’s had told me he had seen Nyiszli writing his Auschwitz book. Nyiszli himself, then, had to have been responsible for its errors. Could the integrity of Nyiszli’s Auschwitz still be upheld?
My interviews of the two acquaintances of Dr. Nyiszli, both of whom were Jewish, gained me interesting information about Nyiszli’s relations with the Jewish community after the war. His personal friend told me that everyone took notice when Nyiszli’s daughter (who, like his wife, had survived Auschwitz) married a gentile after the war. The other acquaintance confirmed this, though the two disagreed on the nationality of Nyiszli’s gentile son-in-law. One said he was a Russian officer; the other, a Romanian officer.
The man who was merely acquainted with Nyiszli informed me that he had met him at a state hospital, where Dr. Nyiszli was on the staff. Dr. Nyiszli had given him an injection for an illness. This man disagreed with Nyiszli’s friend on an important issue. He told me that many people, Jews and others, disapproved of Nyiszli’s relations with the Nazis at Auschwitz, and viewed Nyiszli in a very negative light; my informant concurred.
Dr. Nyiszli’s Visit to America in 1939
On page 61 of my marked-up edition of Auschwitz, I had noticed this intriguing annotation:
Dr. Nyiszli came to the United States in the summer of 1939, and remained until February of 1940, as a member of the Rumanian delegation to the World’s Fair. – Tr[anslator].
To investigate this statement, I first consulted literature on the famous World’s Fair of 1939–40, which was held in New York, and learned that the records of the fair are held by a division of the New York Public Library System. I contacted that department, and although they were able to locate and examine the records of the Romanian delegation to the fair, they could find no mention of Dr. Nyiszli.
Another avenue of investigation proved more successful. In Joseph J. Culligan’s book You, Too, Can Find Anybody, I discovered that the National Archives contained records of arrivals by foreigners at many ports in the United States for much of the twentieth century. I cajoled a good friend into traveling to the Archives in Washington, D.C. Using the time-consuming but valuable Soundex coding system, which transforms a name into a numeric code that indicates how it sounds, rather than how it is spelled, my energetic associate was at last able to locate Dr. Nyiszli on the passenger manifest of a ship called Nea Hellas, which had sailed from Piraeus in Greece and arrived in New York City on December 1, 1939.
The exact citation was found in National Archives Passenger Lists, Roll 6427, Volumes 13,836–13,837, New York Passenger List Number 15, and lists the following information for Dr. Nyiszli:
Family Name: Nyiszli
Given Name: Nicolae
Age in Years: 38
Married or Single: Married
Calling or Occupation: M. Doctor
Race or people: Hebrew [a handwritten correction to the typed “Rumanian”]
Place of birth: Simleul, Rumania
Notice that Nyiszli’s age in this document tallies with the date of birth given in the short life history at the end of his doctoral dissertation, June 17, 1901. He would have been thirty-eight when he received his passport in August 1939, and when he arrived in New York City in December 1939. The passenger list partially confirmed the translator’s footnote in Auschwitz, and provided further evidence that Miklos Nyiszli was a real person.
Nyiszli’s Deposition in 1945
Leafing through Robert Jay Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors one day, I noticed that Dr. Nyiszli was frequently mentioned, and bought the book on the spot. Especially interesting was the citation of a deposition of Dr. Nyiszli, dated July 28, 1945, hitherto unknown to me. I contacted Dr. Lifton through his staff in New York, and learned that his researchers had discovered the document in Hungary. Dr. Lifton’s staff graciously provided me with a copy of an English translation of the deposition. This testimony, unmentioned in the Auschwitz literature before Dr. Lifton’s discovery, is entitled, “Deposition: Miklof Nyifcli [sic] A Physician from Nagyvarod in Hungary,” and dated July 28, 1945.
There are several unmistakable parallels between this document and Dr. Nyiszli’s later book, but noticeable differences too. Among the parallels were his selection to perform autopsies by Dr. Mengele, his residence in crematorium 1, and his unusual assertion that the victims of the gas chamber at crematorium 1 were executed with chlorine granules. “The ganuales [sic] fell down and through contact with the air, a chlorine gas was produced which within five to ten minutes caused death through agonizing suffocation.” This last point is of great interest, because in the earlier editions of Nyiszli’s book the death of the Jews was accomplished by poisoning by chlorine gas. The original 1947 Hungarian edition states: “On one of the boxes they press in the top of a snap and they spill its contents – bean-sized, lilac-colored granular material – into the opening. The spilled material is cyclone or the granular form of chlorine; it immediately becomes gas upon contact with air.” The French Julliard edition of 1961 says the same, but in the corresponding passage in my 1997 edition the equation of “cyclone” (Zyklon) and chlorine gas is eliminated. A translator’s footnote, however, states:
In reply to a query concerning the origin and composition of cyclon gas, Dr. Nyiszli wrote that it was manufactured during the war by the IG Farben Co., and that, although it was classified as Geheimmittel, that is, confidential or secret, he was able to ascertain that the name ‘cyclon’ came from the abbreviation of its essential elements: cyanide, chlorine and nitrogen. During the Nuremberg trials the Farben Co. claimed that it had been manufactured only as a disinfectant. However, as Dr. Nyiszli pointed out in his testimony, there were two types of cyclon in existence, type A and type B. They came in identical containers; only the marking A and B differentiated them. Type A was a disinfectant; type B was used to exterminate millions. – Tr. (p. 111)
Though I can understand how Dr. Nyiszli might make an “educated guess” in discussing Zyklon B, it is rather amazing that such material could still be printed about the Holocaust (or, as I prefer, “Judenausrottung”) in 1997. In fact, Zyklon A had been discontinued years before the Second World War; Zyklon B was not a secret, nor did it emit chlorine gas; and Gerhard Peters, the agent for the manufacturer, DEGESCH, insisted that he and his company had had no idea that Zyklon B was being used to murder Jews. (Given Hitler’s decree on euthanasia, as well as his “humane” comment in his last will, Zyklon B would have been most inappropriate, although I believe that it was in fact used at Auschwitz, through great ignorance of its effects.)
The differences between Nyiszli’s deposition of 1945 and his subsequent book are marked, and in some cases irreconcilable. For example, Nyiszli states in his deposition that he arrived at Auschwitz on May 22, 1944, stayed one day, and then was transferred to a labor detail in the sub-camp Monowitz. After about two weeks (thus in June 1944), all doctors with experience in pathology were asked to report to the authorities. Nyiszli and one other doctor (evidently a Hungarian who had worked at Strasbourg University) did so, and were taken to crematorium 1 at Birkenau. After several hours Dr. Mengele appeared, and examined the two doctors. In Auschwitz, Nyiszli never goes to Monowitz; is recruited as a pathologist by Dr. Mengele in May, not June, 1944; and his fellow pathologist has disappeared!
In his deposition, Nyiszli describes his and the other pathologist’s duties as including taking the measurements of abnormal people, who were then shot by a German officer working for Mengele. The two doctors would then autopsy the victims, after which they would dissolve the bodies and ship the bones to a renowned anthropological institute in Berlin-Dahlem. On one night, according to Nyiszli, Mengele ordered the two pathologists to assist him with a group of fourteen Gypsy twins. Nyiszli, ordered by Mengele, undressed a fourteen-year-old girl, and placed her on the dissection table, whereupon Mengele gave her a shot to cause sleep, then killed her with a chloroform injection. She was then removed to another location. The remaining thirteen twins were one by one treated in the same manner. When all fourteen twins were dead, Mengele asked Nyiszli and his colleague how fast they could do the autopsies. They told him four a day, to which Mengele agreed. Interestingly, and disconcertingly, this story is omitted from Auschwitz. Dr. Lifton and I believe that it was left out due to Nyiszli’s admitted involvement in the murders. In the absence of the threat of his own death, Nyiszli could be considered an accomplice.
Another oddity is this description of cleaning out the crematorium gas chamber: “The special command rinsed off the corpses with a water hose and then began the transport of the corpses in an elevator up to the boiler room.” Note that here Nyiszli correctly lists crematorium 1 as having one elevator, not four, as in his book.
At the end of his 1945 deposition, Nyiszli mentioned that all personnel of the Sonderkommando were killed on November 17, 1944 – except for the doctors who worked for Mengele, and their assistants. They were ordered away from the machine guns by Dr. Mengele himself: he needed their further help for his racial biology work. In Auschwitz, however, Dr. Mengele saves Nyiszli and the others on the date of the Auschwitz camp revolt a month earlier, which goes unmentioned in his deposition.
Several Wartime Witnesses to Dr. Nyiszli at Auschwitz
Filip Müller, a member of the Sonderkommando at Birkenau, has stated several times outside of his well-known book that he knew Dr. Nyiszli at Auschwitz. In correspondence with John Bennett in 1980, he wrote, “Your justified questions demonstrate that you are very familiar with the concentration camp literature which unfortunately does not always present correct testimonies. Many legends have been written about this tragic truth and a few falsehoods have crept into the writing of Dr. Nyiszli.” Further: “I got to know Dr. Nyszli [sic] very well in early summer 1944. He had to work in the Sonderkommando with his colleagues, Prof. Görög and others, as a pathologist for Dr. Mengele. He was an outstanding and optimistic man … I never saw Dr. Nyiszli again after the war. He is supposed to have died in 1949–1950.” Thus, according to Müller, Nyiszli was a pathologist for Mengele at Birkenau, but his book contained at least a few falsehoods. Müller also testified about Dr. Nyiszli during the 1964 Frankfurt “Auschwitz Trial.” In Hermann Langbein’s account of the trial, Müller stated:
When in the year 1944 the Hungarian transports came, two Hungarian pathologists were brought into the crematory, where they stood available to Dr. Mengele. One was named Dr. Nyiszli. I saw once that Dr. Nyiszli had to put the corpse of a hunchbacked person into a container in which there were salts or acids in order to get the skeleton of this person. I also saw how the flesh was cut away from the thighs of those who had been shot dead.
Notice that Müller mentions Nyiszli dissolving a corpse to obtain a skeleton (also in Auschwitz), and the cutting of flesh from corpses (mentioned only in the original Hungarian version of Nyiszli’s book). He also states that two Hungarian pathologists worked for Mengele.
Further confirmation of Nyiszli’s presence at Auschwitz was supplied by a very helpful associate of Dr. Lifton, who sent me two testimonies about Dr. Mengele that mentioned Nyiszli. Milton Buki from Poland had this to say: “The suspect [Mengele] also went several times into that room where the prisoner’s [sic] doctors were busy with the dissection of the dead bodies. From the prisoner’s [sic] doctors, of which we had several ones, I only knew Dr. Niczly [sic] by name. He was an imposing presence, a bit fat …” The description “a bit fat” is certainly unusual for an inmate at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and might indicate Nyiszli’s favor with Dr. Mengele.
From Lifton’s files as well came the following statement by Mrs. Jozsef Szabo, a Hungarian deported to Auschwitz:
… in September 1944, in the block of the twins, an approximately thirty-year-old woman who came from Szombathely died of disease. Her dates are not known to me. The corpse of this woman, fully unclothed, four of us carried on a board to the crematorium. I do not remember which number the crematorium had, I can only remember that the way thither led through a wooded terrain. We knocked on the iron door of the crematorium, whereupon several persons in white coats opened [it] to us. Over to these we gave the dead [woman] on whose breast a large ‘Z’ was drawn. Then a [female] companion, who was helping with the carrying of the corpse, commented [that] she had recognized Dr. Nyiszlit Miklos [sic], a deported physician, as she said, she knew Nyiszlit still from Nagyvara [sic].
Frau Szabo’s description of the crematorium to which the body was delivered as near wooded terrain agrees in part with Nyiszli’s book, which states that in late 1944 he was transferred to Birkenau crematorium 4, which was in a wooded area. I learned of other reports (some unfavorable) of Dr. Nyiszli assisting Dr. Mengele at Birkenau, but since they appear in psychiatric interviews, they are at present closed to the public.
First Appearance of Nyiszli’s Auschwitz Book
Following up on the Yale librarian’s recollection of reading Nyiszli’s book in the pages of the Budapest newspaper Vilag (“World”), I corresponded with two Hungarians with library connections. They kindly assisted me in locating, then copying the entire book from back issues of Vilag. Here at last was the long-sought original edition of Nyiszli’s book! In the newspaper version, which ran serially from February 16, 1947, through April 5, 1947, Nyiszli’s book consisted of forty-one chapters and an epilogue. Its title was: “I Was Mengele’s Autopsy Doctor in Auschwitz: A Hungarian Doctor’s Diary from Hell.”
In the days before Nyiszli’s book appeared for the first time, in the pages of Vilag, the newspaper ran three ads to publicize the book. English translations of those ads follow:
, February 14, 1947
Chief physician Dr. Mengele directed 660 thousand people “to the left” …
Gondor Ferenc’s paper, the [“Man”], published an interesting open letter from Budapest titled “This Is How Chief Physician Mengele Killed Aggie Zsolt’s little girl.” The author of the letter, Aggie Zsolt, has written down with moving words, how her thirteen-year-old little daughter was taken away on October 18, 1944, “by the notorious yellow car of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.”
Chief physician Dr. Mengele’s “pleasantly ingratiating voice” resounded again this day, and one of the cruelest mass murderers in world history again separated out the “ladies,” as he liked to call, sarcastically, his victims before death by gassing. Whomever Mengele’s fluted voice directed to the left was gassed to death that day, and altogether the German chief physician of Auschwitz directed 660,000 victims “to the left.”
Dr. Miklos Nyiszli of Nagyvarad is the only surviving direct eyewitness to the mass murders in Auschwitz. The doctor kept a diary, titled “I Was Mengele’s Autopsy Doctor in Auschwitz,” on the infernal events in the Nazi hell.
Starting February 16, these world-important documents [sic] will be published serially in .
, February 14, 1947
I was Mengele’s autopsy doctor in Auschwitz. Not a novel! [Hungarian: “Nem regény!”] A Hungarian doctor’s diary from the Nazi hell.
The only Hungarian eyewitness to the Nazis’ mass murders in Auschwitz, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, medical doctor, has described with cold objectivity how the Nazi butchers killed two million innocent people – Christians, Jews, Hungarians, Russians, Poles, Czechs – in Auschwitz. The types of death: gas, injection, shooting in the back of the head, the bonfire, flame thrower. Every four months they killed the auxiliary personnel, so there would be no eyewitnesses. The story of the only revolt in Auschwitz.
Starting February 15 [sic], this world-important document will be published serially in .
, February 15, 1947
What did the only surviving eyewitness of the mass murders in Auschwitz record in his diary?
begins publication tomorrow of the memoirs of Mengele’s autopsy doctor.
Tomorrow, Saturday, will begin serialization the diary of Dr. Miklos Nyiszli of Nagyvarad, titled, “I Was Mengele’s Autopsy Doctor in Auschwitz.” Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, the only surviving direct witness of the mass murders, did not write a novel [Hungarian: “nem regényt”], but endeavored to record his hellish experiences factually.
He makes the following statement in the introduction of his diary:
“The undersigned Dr. Miklos Nyiszli was a doctor – bearing the tattooed number A.8450. As a concentration camp prisoner, [I] wrote the work that appears under my authorship, which contains the darkest pages of the history of humankind, free from all emotion, in accord with reality, avoiding the smallest exaggeration and embellishment, as a direct observer of the work of the crematoriums and bonfires of Auschwitz, in which millions of fathers, mothers, and children were consumed. As the doctor of the crematoriums of Auschwitz, I wrote innumerable autopsy and medical reports and signed them with my tattoo number. These were countersigned by Dr. Mengele, and then mailed to one of the world’s most distinguished medical forums, the Berlin-Dahlem Institut für Rassenbiologische und Anthropologische Forschungen. In writing this, I am not striving for literary success. I was not a writer, I was a doctor, when I experienced horrors beyond imagination, and now they have been recorded, not with a reporter’s pen, but with a doctor’s.”
It will be observed that the newspaper made some rather extravagant claims in advertising Nyiszli’s book. According to Vilag, Nyiszli was the only surviving witness (one ad says “Hungarian witness”) to the Nazi mass murder at Auschwitz, and the newspaper was publishing the diary he had kept in the Birkenau crematorium.
The first published version of Nyiszli’s book is important for determining the truth concerning various points which revisionists have attacked over the years. We shall now list several of these.
Nyiszli’s Auschwitz Errors
On February 23, 1947, Vilag published the seventh installment, titled “20,000 Murders Daily,” which included this passage:
“The corpses turn to ash in 20 minutes. The crematorium has 15 ovens. This means the burning of 5,000 people per day. Four crematoriums operate at that same capacity. A total of 20,000 people a day pass through the gas chambers and from there to the incineration ovens. The souls of 20,000 innocent people depart, up the gigantic chimneys. Nothing more remains of them here than a heap of ash in the courtyard of the crematorium, whence trucks take it to the flowing Vistula about 2 kilometers from here.”
Among the notable mistakes in this passage is the claim that Birkenau’s four crematoria each had fifteen ovens. In fact, crematoria 1 and 2 had fifteen each, but crematoria 3 and 4 had eight ovens.
According to Auschwitz, in the summer of 1944 Nyiszli learned that the Birkenau had been constructed in bad winter weather by ten thousand prisoners, and had been in operation killing people for four years. The Vilag edition concurs: four years in operation. Yet, at the rate per day stated in the Vilag excerpt above, the victims of the gas chambers and the crematoria would add up to about twenty-nine million, not counting crematorium victims after summer, 1944, or victims killed in other ways. Nyiszli’s claim that the crematoria were operating in 1940 is belied by the Auschwitz records, which show that they were completed in 1943.
“Later I learned that the Auschwitz KZ had, at certain periods, held more than 100,000 people within its enclosure of electrified barbed wire.” Thus reads the English version of Nyiszli. In the French edition, however, Nyiszli claims that the camp had sometimes held over 500,000 inmates, a gross exaggeration of the actual maximum figure. But it is the French version that is faithful to the Hungarian original, wherein Nyiszli specified 500,000.
The English and the French versions state that there were four large elevators to haul the murdered victims up to the cremation ovens on the ground floor of Birkenau crematorium 1. My hypothesis that this was a transcriber’s error for the single elevator indicated by the building’s blueprints and ruins had been shaken by my discovery, from Dr. Nyiszli’s friend, that Nyiszli had written the book himself. Now I learned that the original Hungarian edition translates: “This is how they pull the bodies, made slippery from water, to the elevators in the neighboring place. Four large freight elevators are working here. They put the dead on these, twenty, twenty-five to an elevator.” Worse, in a later installment in the original Vilag version, Nyiszli again refers to “elevators.” Worse still, in a passage that appears only in the newspaper edition, there is reference to the “elevators” being “giant” (a different Hungarian word than that for “large”) in size, another blow to my theory of a transcription error in the original Hungarian.
This room is as big as the dressing room [“about 200 meters long”], just that the benches and hangers are missing. In the middle of the room, placed about 30 meters apart from one another, columns stretch from the cement floor to the ceiling. Not supporting columns, but square iron-tin pipes, their sides everywhere full of holes like a screen. The sub-officer holds four green-colored tin boxes in his hands. They step on the grass, where thirty meters apart from one another low cement chimneys are sticking out of the ground.
While this description is self-contradictory, and also contradicts the blueprints and the ruins of crematorium 1, the author’s length for the gas chamber there is clear from the reference to the size of the dressing room: “about 200 meters long.” In reality, this exaggerates the actual length of the room in question by nearly seven-fold: the actual room is 30 meters long.
After the last installment of Dr. Nyiszli’s book appeared, for several days Vilag ran letters to the editor on the serial, some of them quite critical. Nyiszli himself wrote responses to two critics (one of whom was a writer well known in Hungary) who had attacked him for his conduct during and after the war. Nyiszli’s replies were published as separate letters in Vilag on April 10, 1947. In the first, Nyiszli wrote that his accuser was “in this matter truly a lay person,” uncomprehending of the amazing reality of Auschwitz, “the hell of hells.” “In this gigantic death factory which pushes every apocalyptical imagining into the background, Dr. Mengele was the satanic factory boss … I do not feel guilty … I also do not feel guilty that after I made my way home and the memories of my traumatic experiences calmed, I dared to write my diary and objectively present the public with truthful documents on the secrets, heretofore unknown, of the death factory in Auschwitz. I did not seek or chase after sensations, much less material advantage.”
The second letter Nyiszli responded to was more vindictive. It reads in part, “This Nyiszli, who through long [newspaper] columns sorts knocked out teeth, smoking crematoriums, corpses shot to death, invoking his instinct for self-preservation, did everything possible to earn the Germans’ satisfaction. Now he saddles fortune and reaps the laurels, as probably the only Jew who profited from Mengele.” Nyiszli responded to this attack in a long letter, stating that the author (who had served in the German-allied Hungarian army as a corporal) should have been ashamed to have served under Admiral Horthy (Hungary’s wartime leader). Nyiszli claimed to saved many lives at Auschwitz. Then, flexing his muscles, Nyiszli blustered: “… ‘this Nyiszli,’ coming from a corporal.Would it be too much to call me ‘Doctor’? In the Communist Party, of which I am a member, they call me ‘Comrade Doctor,’ and that’s the way it should be.”
The next mention of Nyiszli in Vilag, so far as I have been able to ascertain, came on September 30, 1947, when an article reported on his summons to Nuremberg for the trial of IG Farben (case number six before the Nuremberg Military Tribunal). I regard this article as critical to understanding the true nature of Dr. Nyiszli’s book on Auschwitz: it provides a solution which makes sense of all the incorrect information contained therein, and allows Nyiszli’s other statements to be examined and assessed independently of his book.
Mengele’s Autopsy Doctor, Doctor Nyiszli, as Crown Witness in Nuremberg
Following its serial publication by Vilag, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli’s Auschwitz diary has gone all over the world. The extremely interesting novel [again, “regény” in Hungarian] of experience entitled, “I Was Mengele’s Autopsy Doctor” has been one of the most enduring documents of the German horror.
Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, of Nagyvarad, has now received an interesting invitation from the supreme court for war criminals, or rather, the Allied tribunal headquartered in Nuremberg. Russian delegate E. E. Minskoff signed the letter summoning Miklos Nyiszli before the highest tribunal. The expansive communication lists in several points the questions which the Nuremberg tribunal will put to Miklos Nyiszli, the most competent prosecution witness. The first question is: Are you aware of the inhumane methods of treatment employed in the IG Farben concentration camp?
As is known, 40,000 prisoners worked in the so-called “Monowitz” camp for the Germans. Most of them were brought from the eastern territories. English pilots and other Allied soldiers were prisoners in this camp. Doctor Nyiszli was an inmate of this terrible camp for two weeks …
A copy of Nyiszli's witness card for the IG Farben trial. His testimony was based on his professed experiences at the Auschwitz sub-camp Monowitz, which he omitted entirely from his "Auschwitz."
… Dr. Nyiszli arrived in Budapest and will spend a day here in transit. We spoke with the author of the famous book, who said the following: “I strove to gather all the data so that I can be at the disposal of the Supreme Tribunal [sic] in Nuremberg in this horrible trial of humanity. Unfortunately, I cannot furnish written evidence, for I myself escaped from the Auschwitz camp with just the clothes on my body. But I am taking all my notes with me, and of course some copies of my book. I will travel to Nuremberg by plane, and I will stay for 2–3 weeks.”
Several details of this newspaper article can be confirmed from other sources. Visiting the National Archives, I learned that among their records of the Nuremberg trials are two card catalogs containing information about witnesses in the war crimes trials. Dr. Nyiszli is listed in both of them. His cards list him as “Dr. Nicolae Nyiszli, born June 17, 1901 in Simleul-Silvaniei, requested as a voluntary witness by Minskoff.” I also came across an affidavit (Nuremberg document NI-11710), dated October 8, 1947, by accident, while examining an alphabetical listing of various witnesses from the Nuremberg trials, where the affidavit was misfiled under the last name “Nicolae.” This was for me a wonderful find, although I later learned that the outstanding researcher Carlo Mattogno, the premier revisionist writer on Nyiszli, had already discovered it.
NI-11710 has much in common with Nyiszli’s 1945 deposition. It mentions his arrival at Auschwitz; his transfer to Monowitz, and his work there on a labor crew; and his subsequent transfer (along with an unnamed pathologist) to Birkenau, where he began work as a crematorium pathologist for Dr. Mengele. What is different about the affidavit is its partial emphasis upon the Monowitz sub-camp. It also has a rather subdued section on how gassings were conducted at the Birkenau crematorium, with nothing about the four giant elevators to a crematorium or the 200-meter-long gas chambers which appear in his book.
Although Dr. Nyiszli was summoned to Nuremberg to testify in the IG Farben trial, he was not called to the stand, presumably because he was only at Monowitz for about two weeks, and could provide little in the way of useful evidence. At some point in the trial, he was allowed to return home to Romania.
An Interview with Dr. Nyiszli’s Granddaughter
Information about Nyiszli’s subsequent life were graciously provided to me by his granddaughter Monica, whom I was able to locate though the kind help of the Romanian government and a Jewish organization there. Dr. Nyiszli and his wife Margareta had one daughter, Susanna, born in 1929, while Dr. Nyiszli was attending medical school in Breslau. Susanna had indeed married a gentile, a Romanian cavalry officer, in 1952, and their daughter (and Nyiszli’s granddaughter) Monica was born in 1955. Miklos Nyiszli passed away on May 5, 1956; his daughter Susanna passed away in 1983. Before his death, the Romanian secret police placed Nyiszli under investigation for “cosmopolitanism,” perhaps in part because of his correspondence with people in the West. About fifteen years after Nyiszli’s death, when Monica was around sixteen, the secret police confiscated some of his papers, including a map he had drawn of Birkenau. It was not returned.
Conclusions about Nyiszli’s Book and His Other Writings
When I read in the September 30, 1947, Vilag article that Miklos Nyiszli’s book on his experiences at Auschwitz was a novel, it was as if a blindfold had fallen from my eyes. I had never considered this possibility before, but it certainly made sense on reading the article. It not only explained the inflated figures, the factual errors, and the singular account of the Sonderkommandos (thirteen in all!); it also removed all difficulties of “explaining away the details.” Auschwitz is a novel. If a character in a novel meets a real personage, there is no historical issue to resolve. Dr. Nyiszli’s 1945 deposition and his 1947 affidavit disagree with the book on many details because they are recording what he actually thought was the truth, while the book was deliberately crafted as a historical novel.
Within a few years of Vilag’s admission that the book was a novel, it was translated into French and German, and English, and wrongly declared to be an authentic history. This untruth aroused a storm of criticism, starting with the founder of Holocaust revisionism, Paul Rassinier, who himself had been a prisoner of the German concentration camp system for helping Jews under Nazi domination. While Rassinier’s questions were justifiable on many points, they are moot, because Dr. Nyiszli’s published treatment of Auschwitz was knowingly written as historical fiction, which accounts for its disconcerting mixture of truth and non-truth.
Thus the revisionists, although sometimes off course, were correct all along in concluding that there were serious problems with Auschwitz. For example Carlo Mattogno’s critique, Medico ad Auschwitz: Anatomia di un falso, is a wonderful treatment, exhaustive and extremely thorough. Meanwhile, the defenders, translators, and publishers of the Nyiszli book have dealt with the revisionists’ criticisms with silence, or by deliberately changing sections of Nyiszli’s novel without advertising that. What is needed now is an annotated edition of the original book, along with a complete collection of Dr. Nyiszli’s writings and testimony on Auschwitz, to clear the air on this long-standing problem.
I would like to extend my thanks to the many people who were of great assistance to me in my extended search for information about Dr. Nyiszli and his writings. Included among those who deserve my great thanks are: Steve Chaitow, Robert Jay Lifton, Dr. John Drickamer, Rev. Daniel Borsay, Amy Hackett, Lucy Silva, Frank Gyorgyey, Arpad Benedek, Stephen Reich, Eda Pal, Jozsef Tudomanyegyetem, and Gazella Barna. Without their help, I would have achieved little. Special thanks to Monica, Dr. Nyiszli’s granddaughter, to whom I wish the best.
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Additional information about this document
|Author(s):||Charles D. Provan|
|Title:||New Light on Dr. Miklos Nyiszli and His Auschwitz Book|
|Sources:||The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 20, no. 1 (January/February 2001), pp. 20-29|
|First posted on CODOH:||April 18, 2013, 7 p.m.|