Answers for David Irving

Regarding the Jan. 29, 1943 Sonderbehandlung document

by Jamie McCarthy
Jan. 15, 1999

This document, referring to Krema II at Auschwitz-Birkenau, reads in part:

...this initial start-up can only cover limited use of the available machines (whereby a cremation with simultaneous special treatment is made possible), since the electrical wire going to the crematorium is too weak for its power consumption.

The Holocaust-denier David Irving considers there to be "fundamental problems" with this document, and has written a letter challenging Prof. van Pelt to answer them. [1]

I am unaware of an answer from van Pelt, who presumably has better things to do. The questions, however, are easy enough to answer.

David Irving: Are you suggesting that the Final Solution was of such low priority that SS-Gruppenführer Hans Kammler was not able to get the copper he needed to run a few extra yards of wire to his "gas chamber"?

Irving misunderstands. Whether this is merely poor scholarship or deliberate feigning of ignorance is an open question.

First, according to the document, the wire led not to the gas chamber specifically (the room designated "Leichenkeller 1") but to the entire Krematorium building. This is an important distinction, and Mr. Irving should be careful to speak more precisely.

More importantly, this document was written at a time when all the pieces of the Krema II building were being put together at once, in a great hurry. There were numerous problems of which this was only one. Van Pelt has already explained the situation in an essay from 1994. [2] Keep in mind the date on this "Sonderbehandlung" document: January 29th.

Bischoff pulled out all the stops to finish crematorium II by January 31. 119 He informed Topf that it had to deliver the materials needed according to the original schedule, so that crematoria II and III could be finished by January 31 and crematoria IV and V by March 31. Prüfer was asked to come to Auschwitz to coordinate everything.

Prüfer's arrival was preceded by that of Heinrich Messing, who left Erfurt by train on January 4, arrived at Auschwitz at dawn the next day, and was immediately taken to crematorium II, where he worked for 10 hours setting up the forced-draft system for the chimney. Thereafter Messing worked, regularly and without resting, 11 hours a day every day of the week except Sunday (when he had to work for only eight hours). The three forced drafts for crematorium II were in place by January 26. 120 Yet the crematorium was still not complete: the compressed-air blowers, which controlled the speed of incineration, had not been installed. Messing began setting them up on January 26 and finished the job on February 7.

119. Oswiecim [Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum], BW 30/30, 6 and Moscow, 502-1-313, letter Mulka January 29, 1943.
120. See Pressac [Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, 1989], p. 370.

Irving, by ignoring context, implies that this one document shows a lack of priority given to the Krematorium; the exact opposite is true. Everything possible was being done to complete the project on time. That is why it was important to solve the problem of the electrical wiring.

It is even possible that the letter was written partially to provide as an excuse for the delays in the frantic work schedule. When one's job is to anticipate future needs, it rarely hurts to state those needs forcefully, especially if this provides a paper trail. If this happened to be the case, van Pelt's explanation would stand, and several of Irving's objections (including this one) would immediately fall.

David Irving: Was the Final Solution of such common knowledge that it was explicitly (and surely quite needlessly) admitted and recorded in a low-level meeting between an SS official and local outside electricians?

Or was the Final Solution in fact kept so ultra-secret that every document referring to it carried the classification of Geheime Reichssache, and that anybody breathing a word to those with no need to know was automatically subject to the death-penalty? This Geheime Reichssache classification was routinely and mandatorily suffixed (gRs) to any such document's Brieftagebuch number. Both such classification signs are notably absent from your Moscow document.

Irving wishes to have it both ways. When van Pelt paraphrased the document as saying, "You will be able to kill and you will be able to burn simultaneously in this building," Irving complained that this wording was "irresponsible" and argues that "the German text is rather less clear than that."

The only disputed word is "Sonderbehandlung." So if "Sonderbehandlung" is a clear reference to killing, why does Irving protest its being translated that way? And if it is not a clear reference to killing - even fifty-five years later as analyzed by historians - why does Irving consider this an "explicit" reference to the Final Solution?

(In fact, fifty-five years give us a hindsight that the author of the document probably lacked. This hurried request for resources might have been phrased more obliquely, true, but then people make mistakes.)

Irving illustrates a common deceitful tactic of Holocaust-deniers: the document is simultaneously too vague to be understood, yet so precise that its authenticity must be challenged.

There were many documents studied by van Pelt regarding the construction of the Krematoria, which after all were two enormous buildings, impossible to hide. But they were disguised: by rows of trees, and by bureaucratic doubletalk. In documents of this nature, code words were used: this is why the document does not use the word "kill," but the euphemism "special treatment."

In fact, this document, like the others van Pelt studied, was from the archives of the Zentralbauleiting (Central Building Administration). These archives were kept separately from the majority of documents concerning the killing installations. As van Pelt writes on p. 10 of the very book Irving claims to be reviewing, this separate archive was "overlooked by the Germans when they dynamited the crematoria and destroyed incriminating evidence." [3] It is largely because the architectural documents did not merit top-secret classification that they were the ones to survive: so it is quite impractical for Irving to protest that the surviving documents did not merit top-secret classification!

Finally - Irving is coyly suggesting that the document was a forgery. If it were forged, would it not be more likely that the forgers would have given it the stamp "Geheime Reichssache" anyway - to inflate the document's importance and to avoid questions such as the ones Irving raises?

David Irving: I am troubled by the usage, "Auschwitz, am 29.1.1943" in the heading. I have not seen "am" used instead of "den" in thirty-five years of archival research. This may be unimportant, and you may be able to produce reams of other examples.

This is indeed unimportant. As confirmed by the native-German speaking members of the Holocaust History Project, "am" in this context is not uncommon. Irving may not have noticed it - he is not a native speaker.

David Irving: Finally, remind me: why did Sonderbehandlung, if it meant here the gassing of victims, place an impossible burden on a building's power supply? Surely not just the quarter-horsepower electric motor needed to drive an extraction fan?

In fact the document states that simultaneous cremation and gassing could take place, on the condition that use of the "existing machines" be limited.

If Irving would read the literature carefully, he would learn that the fan motors required were larger than one-quarter horsepower - a figure which Irving appears to have made up.

The five oven compressed air blowers were each 3 horsepower. [4] The elevator to lift corpses to the ovens was 10 horsepower by itself. Indeed, the total projected electrical requirements for Krema II peaked at 83 horsepower. [5]

Thus to perform "special treatment" - or more precisely to ventilate the chamber afterwards - while all five ovens were operating would require over 60,000 watts. [6] Sixty kilowatts is a considerable amount of power. Until heavy-duty power lines were installed, it is wholly believable that cremation operations would have had to be partially curtailed.

One would hope that someone who refers to Auschwitz as a "battleship," and whose rallying cry is "Sink the Auschwitz!" [7] would demonstrate a clear knowledge of the documents relating to the Auschwitz camp.

Instead, David Irving has invented "fundamental problems" where there are none, in a transparent attempt to rationalize away a document which is inconvenient to his beliefs. The fact that he has done so with easily-debunked arguments helps demonstrate his disingenuous and sloppy approach to history and historical documents.

Now that his objections have been answered, will Mr. Irving face the reality of this document, and admit that "special treatment" took place in the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoria buildings? Or will he ignore what he cannot rationalize away? Time will tell.

Update, February 7, 1999: David Irving has added a link to this page from his webpage, referring to it as "a really insolent response ... from another hardened critic." He offers no rebuttal.


1. See also other pages on Irving's site: "PELT is too chicken to reply", and his "dossier" on "the bombastic Jan Van Pelt".

2. Pressac, Jean-Claude with Robert-Jan van Pelt, "The Machinery of Mass Murder in Auschwitz," in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Gutman et al., Eds., 1994, pp. 226-7.

3. Dwork, Deborah and Robert-Jan van Pelt, Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present, 1997, p. 10.

4. Pressac and van Pelt, 1994, p. 200. See also top of p. 238 and parenthetical comment p. 232.

5. Pressac, Jean-Claude, Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, 1989, pp. 374, 377.

The figure of 83 horsepower includes the 45 horsepower forced draft ventilation system installed on January 26 - it was removed after a fire on March 20, but Bischoff could not have known that on January 29. See ibid p. 370, and Pressac and van Pelt, 1994, pp. 227, 232-3.

6. I do not know whether the horsepower figures listed by the Bauleitung indicate power draw or power output. If the latter, actual electrical consumption could be somewhat higher: electrical motors typically convert power with 85% efficiency.

7. Irving, David, "Battleship Auschwitz," Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 490ff:

And we have now, at last, the historical profession - above all, the Revisionist historical profession - have found as our own task, the major task: "Sink the Auschwitz!"

My thanks go to Mark Van Alstine for research assistance.

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