In their attempt to find an alternative explanation for the presence of gas tight doors in the crematoria, Holocaust deniers claim that these items can be explained by assuming that the underground morgues of crematoria 2 and 3 were used as gas-proof air-raid shelters. In my expert report, I noted this tendency. The first denier to make this suggestion was Wilhelm Stäglich. In his 1979 Der Auschwitz Mythos, he argued that a gas door for morgue 1 of crematorium 2 could be explained as a gas-door for an air raid shelter. "Air raid shelters had to be secure not only against explosives, but against gas as well. Considering that Birkenau had no other fortified places, it would only have been common sense to make the cellars of the crematoria into air raid shelters." 89 In my expert report, I noted that this suggestion had blossomed into a whole theory. The most important proponent was a writer who hides under the pseudonym Samuel Crowell. He publishes his negationist tract entitled "The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes" on the web, and at least until recently Irving provided a hyperlink between his website and Crowell's.
According to Crowell, the Germans feared allied attacks with poison gas, and in response, they "invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the preparation of air raid shelters."
From the beginning, all German air raid shelters were designed to protect against poison gas as well as against bombs. As a result, special air raid shelter doors were developed, usually made of steel. The doors would feature a round peephole covered with a perforated steel plate to prevent breakage, the peephole meant to facilitate visual inspection without having to break the gas-tight seal by opening the door. 90
Crowell assumed that these civil defense measures were also applied to concentration camps:
Each of the Birkenau crematoria was equipped with a gas-tight bomb shelter, and that these shelters also included decontamination facilities in the form of showers and baths. In this respect it is important to note that the Crematorium at the base camp was known to have been used as an air raid shelter, although its poison gas protection features have rarely been commented on.
In my report I pointed out why Crowell's argument makes no sense (see pp. 746ff.) and that it did not "stand up to serious criticism." Yet the shakiness of Crowell's proposition did not deter Irving from putting on his website the following introduction to three documents that he claimed supported Crowell's thesis.
New Documents on Air Raid Shelters at Auschwitz Camp
I discussed the three documents, and concluded that they did not in any way support Crowell's thesis.
Not surprisingly, during the trial Irving tried to use the air raid shelter thesis to explain why morgue 1 of crematorium 2 and 3 would have been equipped with a gas-tight door. He stated that the Germans had been planning for air raid shelters since 1942. His justification was that the catalogue of the microfilmed Moscow holdings of Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung, issued by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, contained files that seemed to indicate considerable interest in air raid shelter construction in 1942 and 1943, the very years that the crematoria were planned, built, and brought into operation.
On Day 8 of the trial, 24 January 2000, Irving mentioned this evidence
MR IRVING: My Lord, I do not know whether it is better to do it from here or from the witness stand. Just before the adjournment we were talking about the danger of air raids. I told your Lordship that I would bring evidence tomorrow. In fact, by chance -
On Day 11, 28 January 2001, Irving returned to these documents while cross-examining me. The object of discussion was a plan, dated December 1942, showing a modification of the basement arrangement of crematorium 2.
MR. IRVING: But you do accept there could have been perfectly harmless reasons why the basement entrance was transferred from one side of the building to the other? For example, in connection with intensification of the air war, the need to bring people in in a hurry from the street rather than making them go all the way around the buildings, round to the back, to a poky little entrance around the back to get into an air raid basement?
In fact, Irving did not return to these documents, and as a result I was unable to introduce them as evidence and show that these documents did not show any air raid shelter construction in Auschwitz in 1942 and the first 11 months of 1943.
Irving repeated his assertion about the significance of these files in his closing speech of March 15.
The captured Bauleitung records of Auschwitz housed in Moscow confirm that from mid 1942 onwards they began to consider the construction at the camp of shelters, splinter trenches, and other ARP, Air Raid Precaution, measures. To be fair to the witness, when these Moscow catalogue entries were put to Professor van Pelt he seemed unfamiliar with them. After the air raids, our British air raids, on Cologne, Rostock and Lubeck - that was in March/April 1942 - the German High Command recognized the likelihood that air raids would spread across Poland and Central Europe, and they ordered the construction of extended ARP facilities throughout the occupied Eastern territories insofar as they can within bomber range. Existing basements, this document said, were to be converted into shelters, and anti-gas equipment provided, and personnel trained in anti-gas warfare, a gas attack was widely expected. I have given your Lordship the reference. I put the document to Professor Longerich and on Day 10 I said to him: "[...] the Defence rely on a number of photographs of doors found scattered around the compound of Auschwitz and Birkenau, and we will show that these are standard German air raid shelter doors complete with peep holes". And, my Lord, I have provided photographs of such air raid shelter doors in various bundles. 95
In his closing speech, Rampton commented on the air- raid shelter thesis as follows: Mr Irving's air-raid shelter proposal is equally absurd. It is obvious that the Leichenkellers could never have served as air-raid shelters for an inmate population of 100,000 or more, even if it thought likely that the SS should have wanted to protect the inmates against air-raids. Therefore, if the Leichenkellers were ever intended to be used as air-raid shelters, they must have been intended for the SS. In fact, crematoria II and III are about one and a half miles from the nearest SS barracks. The picture of SS personnel running from their barracks, round the perimeter wire, in full gear, one and a half miles to the crematoria, under a hail of bombs, is just plain daft. 96 Mr Justice Gray was not impressed by Irving's argument, and accepted Rampton's reasoning. In his Judgment, he disposed of the issue in section 13.86.
13.86. If the redesign was to convert the buildings [crematoria 2 and 3] to air raid shelters, there would have been no reason why the drawings and associated documents should not says so. But there is no hint in the documents that such was the intention. The question arises for whose benefit such shelters would have been built. It appears to me to be unlikely that the Nazis would be concerned to shelter the camp inmates. In any case the shelters would have been too small to accommodate more than a fraction of them. But the shelters would not have been suitable for SS personnel either, since the SS barracks were about one and a half miles away. So I cannot accept that this argument comes anywhere near displacing the conclusion to be drawn from the convergent evidence relied on by the Defendants for their contention as to the object of the redesign work.
Now, in his affidavit, Rudolf returns once again to the air-raid shelter issue, praising Crowell's articles as "excellent, groundbreaking work that should be made required reading for everybody dealing with this question." (p. 307). In order to deal with his argument, it is necessary to first tie up some loose ends. The most important is Irving's statement in court that the Moscow files contains proof that air raid shelters were a big issue in Auschwitz as early as 1942. Irving was right when he stated that the catalogue of the microfilmed Moscow holdings of Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung, issued by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, contained files that seemed to indicate considerable interest in air raid shelter construction. The catalogue which is in my possession, which dates from 1993 and is entitled "Preliminary Finding Aid" (it is a direct translation of the Russian language finding aid used in the Osobyi Archive in Moscow), indicates that in Record Group (RG) 11.001M.03 of the Museum, which concerns the microfilmed collection of the Moscow holdings of the Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung, reel 47 contains eight files under a heading "Bombshelter." They are numbered with the Moscow numbers 502 - 1 - 400-407.
[502 - 1 -] 400 Corr. with firm "Geyneman & K-o" re supply of construction materials for construction of a bombshelter. 1942, 5 pp
I studied these files in December 1993, and again in December 1999, when I copied files 400 and 401, which are the two files that contain material from the period that the crematoria were under design or construction. When I was told in early February 2001 that I should expect new evidence on Auschwitz to be submitted for a possible appeal, I anticipated that the air raid shelter issue would crop up again, and therefore I requested the United States Holocaust Museum to once again copy 400, and to copy from file 401 all the documents dated from December 31, 1943 or earlier. I also asked them to include copies of the front of the Russian file folders, and to certify in a cover letter that they had done so. On February 21, 2001 the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shipped off these documents, which arrived at my home a day later. In the cover letter Dr. Geoffrey P. Megargee, Applied Research Scholar at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the Museum, states that he "personally printed, and presented to Prof. Robert Jan van Pelt paper copies of the following microfilmed records from the holdings of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives:"
Record Group 11.001 M.03
Upon receipt of these documents, I once again studied them carefully. It is clear that in none of the documents included in file 502 - 1 - 400 is there any mention of any crematorium or morgue, or of a plan to convert a morgue of any crematorium into an air raid shelter. Similarly in none of the documents dated from December 31, 1943 or earlier included in file 502 - 1 - 401 is there any mention of any crematorium or morgue, or of a plan to convert a morgue of any crematorium into an air raid shelter. Furthermore none of the documents included in file 502 - 1 - 400 mentions any intended or executed construction of an air-raid shelter in any of the Auschwitz camps. Similarly none of the documents dated from December 31, 1943 or earlier included in file 502 - 1 401 mentions any intended or executed construction of an air-raid shelter in any of the Auschwitz camps before December 1943.
Having considered the negative evidence, let us look at the positive evidence. What do these files contain? File 502 - 1 - 400, which gave Irving the reason to think that air-raid shelter construction was an issue concerning Auschwitz as early as 1942, is in fact a "cold call" by the building material supply firm Heinemann & Co from Berlin. It is a standard letter following a boilerplate model obviously sent to many organizations by a business hungry for orders. The letter is (wrongly ) addressed to the SS-Neubauleitung Auschwitz O/S (in fact, the construction office was at that time already known as SS-Zentralbauleitung). It is dated January 27, 1942 and it reads as follows:
Re: air-raid protection shelter trench for work camps, factories, public areas etc.
The enclosed document is three pages long, and contains the offer listing the cost per stretching meter (64.20 RM), the cost of an entrance (139.20 RM) and so on. 100 The letter from Heinemann & Co was received at Auschwitz on January 29, 1942. The Auschwitz Zentralbauleitung did not bother to reply. No further letters were received from this firm.
The documents included in file 502 - 1 - 401 that date from December 31, 1943 or earlier do not indicate any plans or attempts to construct air raid shelters in Auschwitz before the end of 1943. Most of the documents in this file were circular letters issued by SS headquarters instructing local SS units how to prepare for air attacks. The file makes clear that the only issue of concern in Auschwitz before December 1943 was the problem of enabling the camp to adhere to the rules of black-out, and the creation of fire precautionary measures, including the installation and maintenance of fire extinguishers in various buildings, and the creation of fire ponds to serve as water reserves in case of an attack with incendiary bombs.
The only document in those files that dates from 1943 and that indicates a concern for shelters is a memorandum of a meeting held on December 6, 1943. Two representatives of the regional air-raid protection authority [Luftgaukommando VIII] visited the camp to see what kind of preparations were made to protect SS men and civilian workers and prevent the escape of inmates during air raids. The meeting was attended by senior members of the Auschwitz SS. Points 1 and 2 of the agenda dealt with measures to obtain a black-out. Points no. 3 and 4 do mention the beginning of construction.
3. For the protection in case of possible attacks of SS men of the guard units or the administration who are not on duty, and of [civilian] workers who live in the camp area, the construction of splinter protection trenches following the existing rules has been planned, and the Zentralbauleitung has begun their construction by means of the making and installation of the [prefabricated] concrete elements.
The rest of the memorandum concerned measures to prevent the escape of inmates in case of an air raid. Standortbefehl 51/43 (garrison order 51/43), issued on 16 November 1943 by Auschwitz Kommandant SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel confirms that the creation of air-raid precautions only became a current concern in the late fall of 1943. Point no. 11 reads:
According to a communication issued by the appropriate higher departments, the necessary air-raid precautionary measures are now also to be commenced in the garrison area Auschwitz. I appoint in my capacity as the local air-raid protection leader SS-Untersturmführer Josten as my personal representative to enact these measures. I request all departments to aid SS-Untersturmführer Josten in every possible way. 102
Considering the evidence of the archives, it is clear that they do not support Irving's statement made in court that "the captured Bauleitung records of Auschwitz housed in Moscow confirm that from mid 1942 onwards they began to consider the construction at the camp of shelters, splinter trenches, and other ARP, Air Raid Precaution, measures." To the contrary: the evidence makes clear that air raid shelters were not a concern before November1943. Combined with the negative evidence that in none of the air raid shelter files the crematoria are mentioned, it is clear that the Moscow files do not support any suggestion that morgue 1 of crematoria 2 and 3, planned in 1942 and constructed in the Fall of 1942 and the Winter of 1942/3, was intended as an air-raid shelter.
Which brings us to Rudolf'/Rudolf's affidavit. His section on air-raid shelters contains five parts, and I will discuss them in sequence.
1. Concerning I. The Wider Context. Rudolf mentions that the Germans released in August 1942 guidelines for bomb shelter construction in the Government General. I do not see how this is relevant for the situation in Auschwitz, which was not part of the Government General, but which had been annexed to the German Reich. Rudolf follows the information about the "guidelines" with a reference to the "implementation of protective measures in Poland against gas warfare even for the Polish population" - suggesting, of course, that the issue of the guidelines and the implementation of the protective measures against gas warfare are somehow connected. Thus arises the suggestion that the Germans in late 1942 were planning to cover Poland with gas-proof bomb shelters. In fact, Frank's diary is more specific than Rudolf admits. It mentions on September 22 "Secret defense matters - the distribution of gasmasks, measures to save on gasoline (ORR Dr. Schepers)." 103 Two days later the matter of gasmasks comes up again in a meeting of the Reich Defence Organization in the Government General, attended by the same Dr. Schepers.
Topics of discussion, amongst others: 1. instructions concerning the distribution of people's gas masks in case of the use of chemical attack substances by the enemy, or "lightning." - 2. the provision of "selected categories" of the non-German population with gas masks. . . . 104
The fact that the issue of Gas masks for Germans and "selected categories" of non-Germans in the Government General is invoked as a significant indicator that the SS in Auschwitz, which was not located in the Government General, were very concerned with the need to ready soon to be completed morgues as gas-tight air-raid shelters reveals how little historical context there is to support the negationist attempt to justify the references to gastight doors with reference to shelters.
The reference to the Warsaw ghetto does not improve matters. Rudolf's statement that "the Stroop Report on the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto in May of 1943 maintains that building material given to the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto in order to build air raid shelters was instead used to built dugouts . . . " is not supported by the evidence. Stroop does refer twice to air-raid shelters, but only that the underground dugouts were built with the excuse that it concerned the construction air-raid shelters. "With the excuse of building air-raid shelters, bunkers were created since the late Fall of 1942 in the former Jewish quarter." 105 "Hide-outs and bunkers were readily available because of the alleged construction of air-raid shelters." 106 Stroop does nowhere mention that the Ghetto inmates received building materials to do so. If the latter had been the case, as Rudolf suggests without any justification, one could have argued that there was a policy to build air-raid shelters. But there is no evidence that any building materials were delivered to the ghetto in the Fall of 1942, a ghetto the Germans had begun to liquidate in the summer before.
Rudolf claims that during the Nuremberg Trial Government General State Secretary Josef Bühler confirmed this fact. That is not quite so. Bühler said something slightly different when questioned as a defense witness by attorney for Bühler's former boss, Governor General Hans Frank
DR SEIDL: "I now come to another point. Under Number USA-275 the Prosecution has submitted Document 1061-PS, which is a report of Brigadeführer Stroop on the destruction of the ghetto in Warsaw. Were you or the Governor General, informed beforehand about the measures planned by the Security Police?"
The key words in Bühler's response are: "I heard what practically everyone heard. . . " Three years after the fact, Bühler resorts to hearsay and fancifully elaborates on Stroop's report.
It is probably superfluous to note that Rudolf is happy to rely in this case of admitted hearsay as a fact, while rejecting in the case of the crematoria well-established fact confirmed by various eyewitnesses as mere hearsay.
2. Concerning II. High Level Documents About Bomb Shelters. This section mentions a number of general circular letters and documents emanating from Berlin dealing with air defence. Rudolf mentions a document that instructs how to repair bomb damage (1940), and modifications to building regulations "including civil air defence measures as a self-evidence part of every building" (1942). Rudolf also includes the letter by Heinemann, and SS guidelines how to minimize damage during air raids (1943). The archive of the Central Construction Office contains hundreds of such items of general information. They do not indicate any action that was taken.
3. Concerning III. Mid Level Documents About Bomb Shelters. This section mentions one document from June 1944 which reports on a meeting on air raid measures to be taken in Auschwitz. The document reveals that in a number of small satellite camps (one which Rudolf wrongly identifies as the "aerodrome at Harmense," a rather embarrassing mistranslation of "Geflügelhof Harmense," which referred to the chickenfarm at Harmense!) trench shelters were created for both SS and inmates, but it also makes clear that no such shelters were to be constructed in Birkenau. The memo mentions that 10 trench shelters were completed. Rudolf concludes that "the document makes it clear that, by mid-summer of 1944, there were very ambitious plans in providing civil air defence throughout the Auschwitz camp complex." This statement seems rather grand, as the total protection planned will only shelter some 5,500 people, or 5.7 % of the total of 96,000 people (92,000 inmates and 4,000 SS men) who ought to have been sheltered following the thesis of deniers like Crowell that the SS was busy preparing shelters for all in the camp area. Rudolf continues with the completely unsupported statement that "Given the fact that Crematoria II and III as well as the 'Zentralsauna' were all equipped with basements, and given that they were among only a handful of fixed structures on the western side of the Birkenau [sic], the use of these basements can certainly be inferred from this date." In fact, the document suggests exactly the opposite: when basements of existing buildings are to be used as shelters, these are specifically mentioned.
And even if Rudolf's unfounded assertions were right, the document is irrelevant as it dates from June 1944. Stäglich and later Crowell developed the air raid shelter thesis to explain why the SS ordered gas-tight doors for morgue 1 of crematoria 2 and 3 in early 1943. This is the time that these two morgues were equipped and brought into operation as gas chambers. A document from the summer of 1944 explaining the planned increase of air raid shelters in the near future could only have had some bearing if it had specifically referred to such measures taken in early 1943. It does not.
4. Concerning IV. Low Level Documents Concerning Bomb Shelters. The Rudolf affidavit continues to introduce irrelevant material from 1944. This section also contains a remarkable piece of misrepresentation. One of the problems in the air raid shelter theory is that none of the plans of morgue 1 or crematorium 2 and 3 shows what is a necessary standard feature of any air raid shelter: an emergency exit. Finding a document from May 11 1944 that mentions a shaft that will function as an emergency exit at some (unnamed) shelter, Rudolf immediately brings this in connection with the concrete shafts that are located close to the remains of morgue 1 of crematorium 2 and 3. Rudolf argues that the "two concrete tubes that lie in the centre of the western walls of morgue 1 of both Crematoria II and III, for which no proper explanation was given so far," are emergency exits from the morgue, to make this space functional as an air raid shelter. Yet is it true that "no proper explanation was given so far" for those concrete tubes? In fact Rudolf must know better, because in note 589 of his affidavit, which accompanies his discussion of these alleged emergency exits, Rudolf states that "J.-C Pressac, op.cit (note 6) shows photos of these emergency exits on p. 228." Indeed, consulting Jean-Claude Pressac's Auschwitz, Technique and operation of the gas chambers (1989) shows these concrete tubes in photos identified as documents 45, 46 and 48. In the caption of document 45, given on the next page, Pressac writes:
View of the inside of the manhole of document 46 with its access ladder. On the left is the rod running from the waste water stop cock to its control wheel above ground. The location can be seen on Bauleitung drawing 1300 of 18/6/42. 107
On p. 297 of his book, Pressac reproduces plan 1300, drawn in June 1942 (and not May 1944!), which deals with the drainage of the crematorium. It shows a number of sections of a total of 12 sewer manholes (Revisionschächten), and Pressac makes it abundantly clear that what Rudolf identifies as emergency exits are simply sewer manholes. Inspection of the remains of these manholes also reveals that they have no connection to the morgues, and that they could not have served as emergency exits. In fact, in March 2000 I visited the site of the crematoria accompanied by a sewer engineer from Austria. I asked him to have a look at the sewer manholes, and confirm that these were indeed created for the alleged purpose. He explained to me that the were indeed sewer manholes, and located where they were because at those points there was a possibility of sewage backing up.
5. Concerning V. Summary. In his summary Rudolf reveals shows how little justification exists for the air raid shelter thesis. He admits that "no direct proof has been so far" that the basements of crematoria 2 and 2 were air raid shelters, and he must rely on circumstantial evidence of "German wartime construction regulations, the sturdy construction of these basements, the installation of emergency exits." (p. 316) As we have seen, the circumstantial evidence does not amount to much, if anything, and so the lack of direct proof must weigh heavily in this case. Rudolf concluded that "these basements were the only locations in Birkenau which offered some inherit [sic] safety."
However, their primary function was to serve as morgues, which might explain why we have not yet found any documents were [sic] they are labeled as air-raid shelters. (p. 317)
Finally, it is to be noted that Rudolf does not deal at all with the obvious problems (for his hypothesis) that the doors of morgue 1 were made of wood, not steel (as both safety and convention suggested they should have been): see Growth, cited at 171-2 above; and that the protection for the reinforced peephole was not "a perforated steel plate" (ibid), but a hemispherical metal grille attached to the inside of the door (as illustrated in Pressac at p. 50).
Thus it may be seen that Rudolf has yet again advanced an hypothesis which not only lacks any positive evidence to support it, but is contradicted by existing material evidence which is wholly consistent with the eyewitness testimony (and which Rudolf therefore ignores or misrepresents).
Last modified:May 23, 2002