Debunking the Genocide Myth
Chapter Ten: The Psychologists: David Rousset and the Universe of the
Of all of the witnesses, none has matched David Rousset's ability, power
of evocation, and exactness in reconstructing the general atmosphere of
the camps, of which he is the acknowledged great spokesman, worldwide. Neither,
has any other witness fictionalized his account more or in a better fashion.
I am afraid that history will remember his name; but mostly for his literary
quality. At this level of history, properly so called, the wrapping outdoes
the contents. He was, moreover, aware of this fact and attempted to forestall
I have reported certain things as they took place at Buchenwald, and
not as they are described in documents published subsequently...
...Especially are there contradictions in details, not only in the testimonies,
but in the documents. Most of the texts published up to the present are
concerned only with aspects quite outside life in the camps, or are apologies
in the form of allusions which affirm principles rather than assemble facts.
Such documents are valuable, but only if one is intimately acquainted with
what is being said; in that case they often provide another hitherto unperceived
link. I have made a special effort to bring forth the relations between
the groups in their actual complexity and in their dynamics. (Les Jours
de notre mort, Appendix, page 764.)
This sort of reasoning allows him totally, or nearly so, to ignore the documents, and, in view of the fact that those pertaining to the camps in the East are both very few and very poor, to state that, "Recourse to direct testimony is the only proper way to proceed." He then selects from these direct testimonies those that best illustrate his way of looking at things at the moment. "Given these conditions," he acknowledges, "it was a bold -- perhaps one should say, rash -- venture to want to present a panorama of the whole of the concentration camp world." (Ibid.)
One could not put it better than he does himself. But then, why describe
the camps using this method in which all is based on categorical assertion?
L'Univers concentrationnaire (Pavois, 1946) had a deserved success. In
the midst of the minor witnesses who howled for vengeance and death on the
heels of the defeated Germans, it tried to lay the responsibilities on Nazism
and, by so doing, marked a new direction.
By way of illustration of the atmosphere at the time, take Frere Birin,
who penned the following warning:
The French should know and remember that the same errors will bring back
the same horrors. They should be informed of the character and shortcomings
of their neighbors across the Rhine, a race of dominators, and that is why
No. 43,652 wrote these lines. Frenchmen, be vigilant and never forget. (16
mois de bagne, p. 117.)
And, that was the tone in all the French press, too. "Le boche"
was on everybody's lips, with the snarl that goes with the word when it
is pronounced correctly. In this atmosphere of hatred, pacifist France was
grateful to David Rousset for having concluded with these words:
The existence of the camps is a warning. German society, both because
of the strength of its economic structure, and the ruthlessness of the crisis
which crushed it, has experienced a decomposition exceptional in the present
situation of the world. But it would be easy to show that the traits most
characteristic of S.S. mentality and the social substructures, can be found
in many other areas in world society. Less pronounced, however, and certainly
not to be compared with the developments we have seen in the Great Reich.
But it is only a question of circumstances. One would be guilty of deception
if one pretended that it is impossible for other peoples to have the same
experience because it is against their nature. Germany has interpreted,
with the originality peculiar to her history, the crisis which led her to
the universe of concentration camps. But the existence and mechanism of
this crisis derive from the economic and social bases of capitalism and
imperialism. Under a new guise, analogous results could appear again tomorrow.
Consequently there is a very definite battle to be conducted. (Page 187)
With the passage of time, what has happened in Algeria and in Indochina
and what is today taking place between Blacks and Whites in the United States
and between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, has demonstrated, more than
could be expected, how justified Rousset's theory was. Moreover, what was
then still going on in Russia demonstrated it no less, but at that time
David Rousset was careful not to make use of that argument. On a more mundane
level one could find still more justifications; take this one for example:
When several hundreds of thousands of adult "displaced persons"
succeeded in getting out of the camps and in leaving for the two Americas,
thousands of children remained behind, together with the old people, in
the care of the I.R.O.... in the sinister barracks of Germany, Austria and
Italy. But the International Refugee Organization is scheduled definitely
to cease its activities in a few months, and one wonders what will be the
fate of these orphans twice abandoned. Their situation is tragic right now,
because in some camps they have not received more food in all than three
to four hundred calories a day, and no one can say if even that inadequate
ration can be kept up. The death rate under such conditions is terrible.
(La Bataille, May 9, 1950.)
The paper said that there were thirteen million living like that, in
a Europe that had got rid of Hitler and Mussolini. If an investigation had
been made into the treatment that they were subjected to by their guardians,
it would be interesting to see upon whom the responsibility would be placed.
Les Jours de notre mort (1947), which takes up the facts as given in
L'Univers concentrationnaire and carries them to the limits of speculation,
strays far from that profession of faith while Le Pitre ne rit pas (1948)
ignores it entirely. From which it must be concluded that David Rousset's
thinking went through such evolutions, under cover of going into details,
that his books ended up on a note much more anti-German than anti-Nazi in
the eyes of the public. This evolution was all the more noticeable in that
being shaded with certain weaknesses for Communism at the start, it developed,
in the end, into an anti-Communism, which one would not want to say could
never turn into Russophobia pure and simple, if the cold war should reach
such a point as to turn into a shooting war.
The originality, therefore, of L'Univers concentrationnaire lay in drawing
a distinction between Germany and Nazism in the determination of responsibilities.
But, this originality was more than matched by the sensational theory that
justified the conduct of the prisoners who were in charge of running the
affairs of the camps, on the basis that it was necessary to preserve, for
the post-war period, the elite of the revolutionaries at the expense of
all of the others. David Rousset embraced this theory by justifying the
policy of saving a certain kind of prisoner, that he defined in terms of
certain extra-humanitarian imperatives. As evidence of that policy, the
malicious could point out that David Rousset was probably saved from death
by the German Communist Kapo, Emile Kunder, who considered that he belonged
to that revolutionary elite, who showed him great friendship for that reason,
and who, today, disowns him.
I. The Postulate of the Theory
It is normal, when all the active forces of one> This statement is
unassailable. His conclusion, set forth without transition, is much less
so: "The purpose of the camps is indeed physical destruction."
(Ibid.) One cannot but notice that, in the postulate itself, physical destruction
is subordinate to necessity, and is envisaged only in cases where the extent
of internment is not enough to prevent the individual from doing harm.
After a leap, or an off-hand deduction, of this kind, there was no reason
to stop, and he could write:
The order bears the mark of the master. The commanding officer of the
camp knows nothing. The Block-Fuhrer (S.S. responsible for the livelihood
of a Block) knows nothing. The Lageraeltester (camp elder, prisoner selected
by the S.S.) knows nothing. Those who carry out the order know nothing.
But the order prescribes death and the kind of death and how much time it
shall take to cause death. And in this desert of knowing nothing, that is
enough. (Page 100, emphasis added.)
With this assertion he found a way both of placing the responsibility
of the camps on those "high-places" of Louis Martin-Chauffier,
and of allowing him to conclude in favor of a pre-established plan for the
systematizing of terror, justified by a philosophy.
The enemy, in the philosophy of the S.S., is the force of evil, intellectually
and physically expressed. The Communist, the socialist, the German liberal,
the revolutionaries, the foreign Resistants are the active representations
of evil. But the objective existence of certain races: the Jews, the Poles,
the Russians, is a static expression of evil. It is not necessary for a
Jew, a Pole, or a Russian to act against National Socialism; they are by
birth, by predestination un-assimilable heretics, dedicated to the apocalyptic
fire. Death therefore has no complete meaning. Only expiation can satisfy
and appease the lords. The concentration camps are the astonishing and complex
machinery of expiation. Those who are to die go to their deaths with a slowness
calculated so that their physical and moral downfall, by degrees, shall
finally make them conscious of thefact that they are accursed, the expressions
of evil, and not men. And that priest-administrator of justice feels a sort
of secret pleasure, a deep-seated sensation of delight, in ruining bodies.
(Pages 108-109, emphasis added.)
From this excerpt it can be seen that, starting from concentration camps
as places to put enemies where they can do no harm, one can easily make
of them institutions of extermination and one can elaborate to infinity
on the purpose of that extermination. From the moment that one reaches that
stage, it becomes no more than an intellectual exercise where one can demonstrate
his aptitude for mental constructions and his talent for writing. But, the
literary effort which produces such a fine description of sadism is perfectly
useless, and one need not have lived through the experience to describe
it like that; one need only consult Tomas de Torquemada and copy down the
arguments of the Spanish Inquisition.
I shall not waste time with a discussion of the first part of the explanation
which ties the Russians and the Poles together with the Jews in the minds
of the Nazi leaders; it is obvious fantasy.
II. The Labor
By labor is meant a means of punishment. Concentration camp manpower
is of secondary interest, a preoccupation foreign to the nature of the concentration
camp universe. Psychologically, it was connected by that sadism that forced
the prisoners to strengthen the instruments of their bondage.
"It was because of the accidents of history that the camps also
became public works enterprises. On the extension of the war to a world
scale, calling for the total employment of everybody and everything, the
lame, the deaf, the blind, and the PGs, the S.S., with lashes of the whip,
enrolled the blind mob of the concentration camps for the most destructive
tasks ... The work of the concentration inmates did not have as its ultimate
object the carrying out of specific tasks, but the keeping of the "protected
prisoners"  in the strictest most debasing confinement. (Pages 110-
Since it has been decided that the purpose of the camps was to exterminate,
it is quite obvious that the work that was performed there is hardly more
than an element, negligible in itself, in the theory of the extermination
mystique. Eugen Kogon, who will be considered in the following chapter,
starting from the same idea but with much less refinement in form, writes
regarding this issue in his L'Enfer organise.
...It was decided that the camps should have a secondary purpose, a little
more realistic, a little more practical and more immediate; thanks to them,
they were going to collect and make use of a manpower composed of slaves,
belonging to the S.S., who, for as long as they were permitted to live,
should live only to serve their masters ... But, what were called the secondary
aims (keeping the population in fear, the use of slave manpower, keeping
the camps up as training and experimental stations for the S.S.) these aims
little by little rose to the first level, insofar as they were the true
reasons for consignment to the camps, until the day when, the war, unleashed
by Hitler, envisaged and prepared by him and the S.S., in an ever more systematic
way, brought about the enormous expansion of the camps. (Pages 27-28, emphasis
By setting these two passages side by side it appears that for the first
it was the historic accident of the war, and then only at the moment that
it became world wide, which made the use of the prisoners as manpower the
important purpose of the camps, while for the second, this result had been
achieved before the war, and the war only emphasized it.
I choose the second interpretation for the following reason: the division of the camps into these categories -- i.e., Konzentrationslager (concentration camp), Arbeitslager (work camp), and Straflager (punishment camp, where the labor and living conditions were harder) -- was an accomplished fact when the war broke out in 1939..The operation of internment, before and during the war, was accomplished in two stages: the prisoners were concentrated in a central camp that was planned for or already was organized for labor, and which served, in addition, as a sorting station; from there the prisoners were sent on to other camps, according to the demands for manpower. There was a third stage for those who had committed offenses during the process of being interned; assignment as punishment to a camp generally still in construction, which was considered a punitive camp (Straflager), but which, from the moment that construction was completed, became in its turn an ordinary camp (Konzentrationslager).
I shall add that, in my opinion, the use of prisoner labor had always been anticipated. This is part of the universal code of repression: in almost all countries of the world, the State makes those that it imprisons sweat for their livelihood by laboring for the State; there are a few exceptions -- e.g., fallen government officials in the democratic nations and distinguished deportees in dictatorships. The contrary practice is inconceivable. It would be nonsense for a State to support those who break its laws and undermine its foundations. It is only the conditions of labor that vary, depending upon whether one is free or interned, and the margin of benefits to be earned.
For Germany, there was an added factor which needs to be noted: the camps
had to be built under the imperatives of a total war. During the war, one
could only think that the sole purpose of the camps was to kill people off
and one was quite inclined to think so even afterwards. The erroneousness
of this impression was all the less obvious since, as the war made necessary
an even greater number of camps, the construction period never came to an
end, and the two circumstances, superimposed in their effects, led to a
generalized continuation of the Straflager stage, seemingly deliberate.
III. The Haeftlingsfuehrung
We know that the S.S. delegated to the prisoners the direction and administration of the camps and that this practice of self-administration was called Haeftlingsfuehrung. There were, for example, Kapos (who headed Kommandos), Blockaeltester (Block supervisors), Lagerschutz (prisoner police), Lageraeltester (camp supervisors) along with other prisoners who composed a whole concentration camp bureaucracy which in fact wielded all of the authority in the camp. This practice also follows a pattern that is part of the code of regression all over the world. If the prisoners to whom fell all of those administrative posts had the slightest notion of solidarity with the common prison population, they would have worked everywhere to alleviate the hardships for everyone. Unhappily that is never the case. Everywhere, on taking over the post that is placed in his command, the designated prisoner (often called a "trusty") changes his outlook. It is a phenomenon too well known to dwell on and too universal to impute solely to the Germans or the Nazis. David Rousset's error was to believe that it could be any other way in a concentration camp and that, in fact, it had been otherwise -- i.e., that the political prisoners were beings superior to the common mass of prisoners and that the laws they obeyed were nobler than the laws of the individual struggle for life.
This error led him to lay down as a principle that the prisoner bureaucracy
of the concentration camps, not being able to save large numbers of men,
deserved credit for saving the "best" of the prisoners: "With
the close collaboration of a Kapo one could make life much easier, even
in the Hell." (Page 166.) But he does not tell how one could get the
close collaboration of a Kapo. Nor that this collaboration, except when
the Kapo was a political prisoner, ever went beyond the kind of relationship
that one would expect to exist between a patrician and his dependent. In
any case, he fails to mention that only a tiny number of prisoners could
hope to achieve this relationship, regardless of its precise nature.
Obviously, the positions within the Haeftlingsfuehrung were eagerly sought
after, since to hold one improved the relative conditions that one faced
in the camp. David Rousset writes that:
The holding of those posts was therefore a prime interest, and the life
and death of many men depended on it. (Page 134)
Then trying to link everything together, Rousset asserts that those who
held those posts organized, and most of those who organized were Communists:
then they worked out regular political plots against the S.S.: then they
drew up programs for action after the war:
At Buchenwald the secret central committee of the Communist faction was
composed of Germans, Czechs, a Russian and a Frenchman. (Page 166)
From 1944 on they were preoccupied with the conditions that would be
created by the end of the war. They were greatly afraid that the S.S. would
kill them all before that. And it was not an imaginary fear. (Page 170)
At Buchenwald, besides the Communist organization that without doubt
achieved there a degree of perfection and efficiency unique in the annals
of the camps, meetings took place more or less regularly among the political
elements, from the socialists to the extreme right, which ended in setting
up a program of joint activity for when they returned to France. (Page 81
All of this activity is a possibility, but it is factually questionable
that such organization ever occurred. Certainly, in all of the camps, the
prisoners gathered together in numerous and unobtrusive and informal group
alignments for various reasons: to better endure their common fate; to promote
their self-interest; to get appointed to the Haeftlingsfuehrung and, once
appointed, to hold that position. But, these prisoner alliances were a far
cry from the picture that Rousset paints.
After the liberation, as David Rousset corroborates, the Communists were
able to make people believe that the bond of their association was their
doctrine, to which their acts conformed. In reality, the bond was the material
advantages that were to be gained by those in the association. In the two
camps which I knew, the general view was that, political or not, Communist
or not, all of the so-called "Committees" were first of all associations
of food thieves regardless of whatever form they took. Nothing has been
uncovered to change this view. On the contrary everything has confirmed
it: the small groups of Communists affronting each other over the various
spoils of the system e.g., the composition of the clique which held power;
the manner in which the spoils of pillage were to be divided up; the distribution
of camp assignments, etc., etc... For example, during the few weeks that
I spent at Buchenwald in Block 48, at the suggestion of the Blockaeltester,
or with his authorization, a group of prisoners, new arrivals, had decided
to bolster the group morale. Little by little they acquired a certain degree
of authority. In particular, contact between the Blockaeltester and ourselves
in the end could only be made through them. The group regulated life in
the Block, organized discussions, assigned the duties, and divided up the
food, among other things. It was pitiful to see the toadyism toward the
omnipotent Blockaeltester that developed among them. One day, the principal
mover in this group was caught in the act of dividing up with another the
potatoes that he had stolen from the common ration...
Eugen Kogon relates that the French at Buchenwald, who were about the
only ones to receive parcels from the Red Cross, had decided to share them
equally with the whole camp:
When our French comrades said they were going to share a large part of
them with the entire camp, this act of fellowship was received with gratitude.
But the distribution was organized in a scandalous manner for weeks; there
was in effect only one parcel for every ten Frenchmen... while their compatriots
in charge of the distribution, having at their head the chief of the French
communist group in the camp , reserved for themselves piles of parcels,
or used them for the benefit of their friends of the same stamp. (L'Enfer
organise, Page 120.)
David Rousset sees a harmful aspect in this state of things, if not a
principal cause of the horror, when he writes:
The bureaucracy does not serve only in the management of the camps; it
is, at the top, all involved in the deals of the S.S. Berlin sends cases
of cigarettes and tobacco to pay the men. Truckloads of food arrive at the
camps. Every week the men are to be paid; they get paid every two weeks
or every month; the number of cigarettes is reduced and lists are made of
bad workers who get nothing. The men are dying for want of a smoke. What
does that matter: The cigarettes go into the black market. Meat? Butter?
Sugar? Honey? Jam? A bigger portion of red cabbage, beets, rutabagas, touched
up with a little carrot, that will do well enough. It is even pure kindness...
Milk. Lots of whitened water, that will do perfectly. And all the rest:
meat, butter, sugar, honey, jam, milk, potatoes, on the market for the German
civilians who pay and are proper citizens. The people in Berlin will be
satisfied to learn that everything arrived all right. It is enough that
the records are in order and the bookkeeping verifiable ... Flour? Of course,
the bread ration will be reduced. Without even covering it up. The portions
will be a little less carefully cut. The records are not concerned with
such things. And the S.S. masters will be on excellent terms with the tradesmen
of the area. (Pages 145-146-147)
Here, support is given, at least as far as the food is concerned, to
the legend that a plan was drawn up "in high places" to starve
the prisoners. Berlin supplied everything that was needed to provide the
prisoners with adequate rations, in conformity with the reports that were
written to the families, but, without the knowledge of the officials, it
was not distributed to the mass of prisoners. And, why not? Who does the
stealing? The prisoners who were in charge of the distribution. David Rousset
tells us that such theft was done under the orders of the S.S. to whom was
turned over the proceeds. No, the prisoner trustees stole for themselves
first, and took all that they required. Then, they paid some of it to the
S.S. to purchase their complicity.
Incidentally, the same phenomenon was brought to light in May 1950 during
the trial instituted against the "Oeuvre des meres et des enfants"
at Versailles, whose ring leader was headmistress Pallu. Preliminary investigation
The children were badly clothed, left in a repulsive state of filth,
in a room crawling with vermin. The straw mattresses were foul with excrement
and urine, crawling sometimes with maggots. There was but one sheet, one
blanket. All the toilets were stopped up. The children relieved themselves
just where they were. They were covered with impetigo and lice. That was
the setting. There 13 children died of hunger. And yet they were supposed
to have received, in addition to their normal rations, supplementary allocations.
The children saw nothing of this: the milk was half watered.
"The children were getting too much," said a sister. "The headmistress had a liter and a half of milk delivered to her every day, chocolate, rice, meat -- and of the best quality."
"The headmistress, a little brunette, sent twenty-kilo packages
to her family, out of her personal reserves. All those people were well
nourished, and did not wonder at that choice food during times when the
daily rutabaga was the rule. And the children? Oh! that was so easy, they
didn't ask for anything..." (Le Populaire, May 16, 1950.)
This account is in a class with the best accounts covering the German
concentration camps. The drama took place in France, and neither the public
nor even those in the administration of "L'oeuvre des meres et des
enfants" knew anything about it, The children died there like inmates
of a concentration camp, under the same conditions and for the same reasons...
and in a democratic country, to boot!
So, to return to the subject at hand, these famous "revolutionary
committees" never defended the interests of the common prisoners or
prepared political plans for use after the war, the Communists were able
to delude the public on these points. Rather, they existed merely to promote
the well-being of their members. I shall add that those persons who succeeded
in forming them, kept alive a spirit of subservience vis-a-vis the S.S.,
a kind of collaboration, without which the camps could not have operated.
Regarding the discussions organized in Block 48, and to which reference
has been made, David Rousset has this to say:
So I organized a first discussion; a Russian Stubendienst twenty-two
or twenty-three years old, worker in the Marty Factory at Leningrad, gave
us a long exposition of the condition of labor in the U.S.S.R. The discussion
which followed lasted for two afternoons. The second talk was given by a
Kolkhosian on Soviet agricultural organization. I myself, gave a little
later a talk on "The Soviet Union, from Revolution to War"...
I was present at that talk; it was a masterpiece of Bolshephilism, rather
unexpected for one familiar with David Rousset's earlier Trotskyite activities.
But Erich, our Blockaeltester, was a Communist and was in very good standing
with the "cell" which exercised the preponderant influence in
the Haeftlingsfuehrung at the moment. It was artful to get his attention
and to predispose him for the day when he would have favors to dispense.
"Three months later," continues Rousset, "I would certainly
not have begun this endeavor again. The game was played out. But at the
time we were all still very ignorant. Erich, our Block chief, grumbled,
but didn't oppose the business..." (Page 77) To be sure. Furthermore,
three months later, it was Kapo Emil Kunder on whom siege had to be laid.
The time of the talks was over, and the emphasis was on the Red Cross packages
from France. If I have correctly understood Les Jours de notre mort, Rousset
used these packages to his advantage, and I do not reproach him for it;
I myself owe my return to France to them, and I never made any secret of
It could be, and perhaps it will be, maintained that it was not important
to establish the fact that the Haeftlingsfuehrung made the common prisoners
suffer a treatment that was substantially more horrible than that which
had been planned for them by the higher circles of Nazism and that nothing
forced the Haeftlingsfuehrung to do it. If such a contention were made,
I would then observe that it has seemed to me to be indispensable to determine
exactly the causes of the concentration camp hell in all their aspects,
if only to place the contentions of the Haeftlingsfuehrung apologists in
the proper context, and to orient a little more toward the true nature of
things the inquiry of the reader in whose mind this problem remains unresolved.
Birkenau, the largest city of death. The selections on arrival; the trappings
of civilization set out like caricatures to deceive and subdue. Regular
selections in the camp, every Sunday. The inevitable destructions in Block
7 long drawn out. The Sonderkommando (special Kommando assigned to the Crematory)
totally isolated from the world, condemned to live every second of its eternity
with tortured and burned bodies. Terror breaks the nerves so decisively
that the death agonies know all the humiliations, all the betrayals. And
when, ineluctably, the strong odors of the gas chamber close, everyone rushes
forward, crushing each other in a frenzy to keep alive, so that, when they
are opened the bodies inextricably tangled fall forward in cascades onto
the rails. (Page 51)
In such a fictionalized panorama as Les Jours de notre mort, this passage
will cause no shock. But, in L'Univers concentrationnaire, which has in
so many aspects the character of a true story, it would be out of place.
David Rousset was not, actually, ever present at this scene of torture of
which he gives so exact and so gripping a description.
In 1950, it was still too soon to pronounce a definite judgment on the
existence of gas chambers in the camps; documents were wanting and those
that existed were incomplete, inexact, and obviously apocryphal or falsified.
But, the historian has no right to bring forth gratuitous hypotheses. Therefore,
I limited myself to pointing out obvious anomalies. For example, Eugen Kogon,
who in his L'Enfer organise, said that "a very small number of camps
had their own gas chambers," (Page 154), was careful not to say which
ones. Or again, concerning those which allegedly were installed at Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Kogon told how the Germans effected the extermination by this method, according
to the testimony:
...of a young Jew from Brno, Janda Weiss, who belonged in 1944 with the
Sonderkommando (crematory and gas chambers) from whom come the following
details, confirmed, moreover, by others. (Page 155)
To my knowledge, this Janda Weiss was the only person in the whole of
the concentration camp literature who was said to have been present at such
exterminations and whose exact address was given. Unfortunately, by an unhappy
chance, he was in the Russian zone and only Eugen Kogon has profited by
his statements. Given the historical and moral significance of the use of
gas chambers as a method of repression, further steps could possibly have
been taken to acquaint the public with his precise testimony, other than
through a third party, and at the same time to extend its length to a little
more than that of a paragraph that appeared to have been incidentally included
in Kogon's comprehensive study.
There was another doubtful element in Eugen Kogon's thesis regarding
the gas chambers, and it lay in this:
In 1941, Berlin sent to the camps the first orders for the formation
of special transports for gas extermination. The first ones chosen were
prisoners in for breaches of the common law, prisoners sentenced for immoral
behaviour, and certain political figures in bad odor with the S.S.
These transports left for an unknown destination. In the case of Buchenwald
one could see being returned the next day, clothing, including the contents
of the pockets, dentures, etc... Through an under-officer of the escort
it was learned that these transports had arrived at Pirna and at Hohenstein
and that the men who made up the transports had been subjected to tests
of a new gas and had perished.
During the winter of 1942-1943, all the Jews had been examined with regard
to their capacity for work. Instead of the above-mentioned transports, it
was then those Jews, who, in groups of 90 men, took the same road, but ended
up at Bernburg near Kothen. The doctor-in-chief of the nursing home of the
district, a certain Doctor Eberl, was the docile tool of the S.S. In the
files of the S.S. this operation bore the reference "14F. 13."
It seems to have been carried out simultaneously with the annihilation of
all the sick in the nursing homes, which little by little became the general
practice in Germany under National-Socialism. (Pages 225-226)
Now, I had already studied the matter enough to know that the extermination orders to which he alludes stem from a program of euthanasia, not of extermination. The two documents that he quoted in support of his contention -- and he was careful not to reproduce the orders themselves -- amply proved the point. They consisted of a couple of pieces of correspondence between the camp officials at Buchenwald and the directors of a nursing home at Bernburg. In his letter dated February 2, 1942, Dr. Hoven, the camp physician states, with regard to Jewish prisoners who are unfit for work in the camp:
Referring to our personal conversation, I send you, attached, in copy,
and to be used for all purposes, a list of those Jews sick and unable to
work, now in the camp at Buchenwald.
At this point, it must be noted that the list which is mentioned is not
published. The second document is a letter from the nursing home at Bernburg,
dated March 5, 1942, in which the writer refers to a letter of March 3,
1942. The text of this letter is as follows:
Subject 36 prisoners, list no. 12 of February 2, 1942.
In our letter of the 3rd current, we asked you to make available to us
the last 36 prisoners of the last transport, March 18, 1942.
Because of the absence of our physician-in-chief who is to examine medically
these prisoners, we request you not to send them to us on March 18, 1942,
but to add them to the March 11, 1942, transport, together with their papers
which will be returned to you March 11, 1942.
One must agree that the meaning of the text has to be strangely distorted
to deduce from this exchange of correspondence that extermination by means
of gas chambers was involved.
These two documents, moreover, call for comment, since they apparently
refer to the practice of euthanasia, and since they bear the dates of February
2 and March 5, 1942. Here is the story of operation Gnadentod:
On September 1, 1939, Hitler signed the Gnadentod order, the text of
which is given as follows:
Reichleiter Bouhler and Doctor Brandt are instructed, on their own responsibility,
to extend the authority of physicians to designate by name, after a critical
examination of their condition, those sick persons who can humanely be called
incurable, so that a merciful death may be assured.
When this decree -- which was not restrictive -- was signed, the installation of crematoriums was begun in six sanitariums: that of Hadamar near Limbourg, that of Grafeneck in Wurttemberg, that of Hartheim near Linz, and the homes for the aged at Pirna, Bernberg and Brandenburg. After January, 1940, the transfer of the terminally ill to these establishments began.
During July, 1941, the rumor began to spread in German Catholic circles
that some 30,000 ill persons had been subjected to euthanasia contrary to
Church doctrine. The priests were aroused, and on July 6, 1941, a pastoral
letter of the bishops was read aloud in all of the Catholic churches of
Germany, dated June 26, 1941, of which the essential passages are the following:
Most certainly there are commands which do not call for action on our
parts if their execution would involve too many difficulties or dangers.
But there are also duties of conscience from which no one can free us and
which we must carry out, even at the cost of our lives. Never, in any circumstances
outside of war and legitimate self defense may an innocent man be killed!
When this pastoral letter which he had energetically promoted had no
effect, and the removal of the terminally ill was renewed in his diocese,
Monseigneur von Galen, Bishop of Munster, lodged a complaint on July 28,
1941, with the public prosecutor of the Munster Court, invoking articles
139 and 211 of the code which put an obligation on everyone to denounce
murder and to oppose it. When this complaint had no effect, Monseigneur
von Galen ascended the pulpit on August 3, 1941, in his church Saint-Lambert
of Munster, and delivered a ringing sermon.
After recalling earlier protestations of the bishops, and also of his
own, and after denouncing a recent removal of one thousand six hundred sick
persons from the homes for the aged at Marienthal and Warstein, the Bishop
of Munster stated:
Why should these poor defenseless sick people die? Simply because according
to the verdict of some doctor or commission they belong in the category
of the "unfit to live." It is stated that they can no longer be
productive. They are like an old machine that no longer works, an old paralyzed
horse, a cow that no longer gives milk! What becomes of an old machine:
it is put on the scrap heap. What is done with a paralyzed horse? Unproductive
cattle? ... But it is not a question of old machines, horses or cows.
It is a question of men like us, our brothers and our sisters. Woe to man!
Woe to our German people if the sacred Commandment: 'Thou shalt not kill'
which our Creator engraved from the beginning in the minds of men, is transgressed,
and if this transgression is tolerated and goes unpunished...
This sermon had a profound echo all over Germany and started a movement
before which Hitler retreated.
Less than a month afterwards, August 20, 1941, Hitler gave the order
to suspend operation "Gnadentod." All the historians, even the
most anti-Nazi, are today agreed on this version of the affair. Even Mr.
Gerhard Jaeckel, a specialist on Nazi atrocities and war crimes, in the
illustrated Munich weekly Quick (June 25, 1961), has confirmed it in every
detail as it is reproduced above. And, in Paris, the newspaper Le Monde
(May 3, 1963) has also accepted the story as it is set forth in the preceding
Now, the two documents that are produced by Eugen Kogon bear the dates
of February 2 and of March 5, 1942, when operation "Gnadentod"
had been terminated for more than six months. A third document that was
published by Eugen Kogon in support of these two letters, which is a report
from Dr. Hoven, but which has no date, has this to say, according to Kogon:
The obligations of the contracting physicians and the negotiations with
the burial services have often led to insurmountable difficulties ... This
is why I am at once getting in touch with Doctor Infried-Eberl, head physician
of the nursing home of Bernburg-sur-Saale, Post Box 252, telephone 3.169.
This is the same physician who carried out operation "14 F 13."
Doctor Eberl has shown the greatest kindness. AU the bodies of the prisoners
deceased at Schoneberg-Wernigerode will be transported to Doctor Eberl at
Bernburg and will be cremated, even without a death certificate. (Page 227)
The least one can say is that this report does not excuse one from the obligation of verifying the authenticity of the three documents ... if only to find out if, in the Germany of 1942, it was possible to contravene the orders of the Führer to this extent.
A procedure called the "Selektion", which was periodically
performed in all the camps, contributed in no small measure to the dissemination
of the notion that executions were common occurrences in the camps. What
actually happened was this:
Periodically, the health services of the camps received the order to make up a list of all sick persons who were considered to be unfit for fairly sustained work or for any work at all, and to gather them in a special Block. Then, trucks arrived -- or a line of railway cars -- and they were put in, and they departed for an unknown destination. The rumor in the concentration camps had it that they were taken directly to the gas chambers; as a consequence, with a sort of cruel sense of humor, these assemblings were called Himmelskommandos, meaning that they were composed of persons bound for heaven. Naturally all of those who were sick tried to escape the Himmelskommando.
I saw two or three "Selektions" carried out at Dora; I even
escaped being included in one of them. Dora was a small camp. Although the
numbers of unfit sick were always greater than the means available to care
for them, those numbers only very rarely reached proportions so large as
to interfere with the operation or the administration of the camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau,
which David Rousset speaks about in the quotation in question, was different.
That camp was very large, a human ant-heap, so to speak. The number of unfit
was considerable. The "Selektions", instead of being made through
the health services, often were made on the spot whenever the trucks or
rail cars arrived. They took place at a rate of about one a week, and decisions
as to who was to be included were made just on appearances. Between the
S.S. guards and the concentration camp bureaucracy on the one hand and the
mass of prisoners trying to escape selection on the other, one can imagine
the confusion of what amounted to manhunts in an atmosphere of universal
panic. After each "Selektion" ' those who were left behind felt
that they had for the time being escaped the gas chamber.
But, there is nothing to prove conclusively that any of the unfit, or
those so designated as unfit, who were selected in this way, either at Dora
or at Birkenau, were sent to gas chambers. In support of this statement
I want to record a personal experience. In the "Selektion" which
I escaped at Dora was included one of my comrades who did not have the same
luck. I saw him depart, and I was sorry for him. In 1946 I still believed
that he was dead and that he had been asphyxiated together with the entire
convoy of which he was a part. In September of the same year, to my astonishment,
he showed up at my house to invite me to attend some official demonstration.
When I told him what my fears for him had been all this time, he told me
that the convoy in question had been sent to Bergen-Belsen, a convalescent
center for the sick deportees from all the camps. This story is verified
by a former deportee, a fellow named Mullin who is now an employee at the
Besancon railway station. After a trip that was made under appalling conditions,
he arrived at Bergen-Belsen, to which had converged convoys of the unfit
from all over Germany. There were so many Prisoners that the camp administration
didn't know where to Put them or how to feed them. He spent many horrible
days there and was finally sent back to work. At Buchenwald, moreover, I
had already encountered in Block 48 a Czech who had returned to Birkenau
from Bergen-Belsen in the same way.
My view on the gas chambers? Some probably did exist; but not as many
as is believed. Moreover, there probably were exterminations by gas, but
not as many as has been claimed. The number, of course, does not in the
least diminish the nature of the horror, but the fact that the practice
might have been a measure that was decreed by a State order in the name
of a political doctrine would singularly add to the horrible nature of it.
Was that the case? The statement of Dr. Aryeh Kubovy, Director of the Center
of Jewish Documentation at Tel-Aviv, which is discussed in Chapter 13, Note
8, concerning the nonexistence of orders for the extermination of the Jews
has definitely settled the question in the negative.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that there appears to have been no
official Nazi policy of gas exterminations, the factor that has played the
greatest role in promoting the contrary belief, seems to have been the "Selektion"
practice about which there is not a deportee who cannot speak as a witness
in one way or another, and who does so, mainly, in terms of all that he
feared at the moment.
Two other documents that are quoted by David Rousset in Le Pitre ne rit
pas (1949) in support of the existence of mass exterminations by gas do
not strike me as any more convincing than those of Eugen Kogon. The first
is a deposition of a certain Wolfgang Grosch at Nuremberg and is about the
construction of gas chambers, but not their use. The second, concerning
trucks that had been fitted with asphyxiating mechanisms which were to have
been used in Russia, bears the signature of a second-Lieutenant and is addressed
to a Lieutenant. Neither one of them allows one to accuse the leaders of
the Nazi regime of having given orders for the extermination by gas. The
text of both documents will be found in Appendix C at the end of this book.
Speaking of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Eugen Kogon had said that toward the
end of 1942 the Third Reich was contemplating the installation of a branch
of I.G. Farben Industries at the camp, in which the use of chemical gasses
would be indispensable, and I suggest that from this fact might have sprung
the accusation that the Reich had decided to exterminate Jews in this way.
 Of course, it is only a supposition. But in history as in the sciences,
have not most discoveries stemmed, if not from supposition, at least from
It may be objected that there is nothing to be gained in exonerating
National-Socialism in this way, whose misdeeds in other respects are definitely
established. In response, I believe that there is nothing more to be gained
in supporting a doctrine or an interpretation, perhaps correct, but which
rests on falsities. All of the great principles of democracy die, not because
of their substance, but from being too exposed in details considered as
insignificant in their scope as in their substance, and dictatorships generally
only triumph to the extent that insufficiently studied arguments are brandished
against them. In this connection, David Rousset gives an example which in
a masterly manner illustrates this way of looking at things:
I was talking with a German physician ... He was obviously not a Nazi.
He was fed up with the war and did not know where his wife and four children
were. Dresden, which had been his home, had been cruelly bombed, "Look
here," he said to me, "did we go to war for Danzig?" I answered
no. "All right then, Hitler's policy in the concentration camps was
frightful (I bowed); but, for the rest, he was right." (Page 170)
So, by this little detail, because it was felt to be wrong to be told
that they were going to war for Danzig, and that that turned out to be false,
this doctor pronounced judgment on Hitler's entire policy and approved of
it. I wonder in fear what he thinks of that policy now, now that he has
had a chance to read David Rousset and Eugen Kogon.
V. Traduttore, Traditore
This small detail is without great significance; David Rousset sets forth
his opinion as to the etymology of the word "Kapo" as follows:
The expression Kapo is probably of Italian origin and means the head:
there are two other possible explanations: Kapo, abbreviation of Kaporal,
or a contraction of the phrase Kamerad Polizei, used during the first months
of Buchenwald. (Page 131)
Eugen Kogon on the other hand is more positive:
Kapo: Il capo, the head, the chief ... (L'Enfer organise, page 59)
I suggest another explanation: the word is derived from the phrase Konzentrationslager
Arbeit Polizei, using the initials of each word, just as Schupo comes from
Schutz Polizei and Gestapo from Geheim Staat Polizei. The haste of David
Rousset and Eugen Kogon to interpret, rather than analyze, prevented them
from thinking of it.
- In German, the camps were called Schutzhalflager, camps for prisoners
being protected (against the people's fury.)
- He was given this title by the Ruling Clique; his name was Marcel Paul.
- [Auschwitz and its satellite camps became, by the end of the war, a
huge industrial complex where both prisoner and free labor worked in a
variety of industrial enterprises, among which were extensive chemical
works which manufactured from the coal of the region synthetic gasoline
and "Buna" (synthetic rubber.) For a detailed discussion, see
Arthur R. Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (Richmond,Surrey: Historical
Review Press,  ), pages 47-52.]
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