Laundering a Topf Letter: Fictional Plans for a 10 oven Mauthausen Crematorium
A perfect example of the movable feast that is Holocaust History and the very cynical way some (but not all) archives show to the integrity of their collections is the supposed plans to build a 10 oven (30 muffles) capacity crematorium in Mauthausen in early 1945. The legion of dedicated followers of this blog will be aware that there are some answered questions about the very simple Topf facility existing there today ( discussed here and here ).
These plans was first revealed in an exhibition in Germany called The Engineers of the “Final Solution” : Topf and Sons – Builders of the Auschwitz Ovens. The curators produced a letter dated 10 February 1945 from J.A Topf and Sons to SS Construction Management in Mauthausen, which can only be read as a proposal to rebuild the evacuated ovens from Birkenau of “Krema II” and “Krema III” in Mauthausen. A reproduction of the first page of the letter is below:
To give a rough translation of this page:
Re: Construction of a Krematorium (Special facility)
In the attachment we send a drawing D 61 654 to you through our foreman Koch. From this drawing you will be able to visualise a half of the entire facility.
The middle main building contains 2 times a 5 piece triple muffle cremation oven [ie 10 ovens each with 3 muffles: my note], which are connected to a 2 piece triple channeled chimney. The middle building receives on the outer side the room for the supervisors. On the opposite situated side is the coal room. Right and left is located the rooms for the rubbish incinrator ovens with exhaust gas pre-warmers. To the exhaust gas prewarmers we have one triple-muffle crematorium oven and the rubbish incinerator oven…..
So where is the problem, you may say, we have reports saying that 10 triple-muffle ovens were evacuated from Auschwitz – what could be more logical for there to be plans to rebuild them elsewhere? The first problem is these 10 triple-muffle ovens have never been found, nor have the associated rubbish incineration ovens – if they were then in the possession of JA Topf in February 1945, where did they then disappear to? The only Topf ovens we know about are the 2 triple-muffle ovens in Buchenwald and the 1 double-muffle oven in Mauthausen – assembled very late in the war, if not after liberaton.
The bigger problem is the very short archival history of this letter. Krema Denial holds that in Moscow there existed a Topf letter (and other Nazi era documents) generating factory, where counterfeits could be produced at will to cover perceived gaps in the historical narrative. But to produce a letter is one thing, to insert it into the historical discourse is another. This letter first appeared in the historical discourse in 2005, courtesy of the Stiftung Gedenkstaetten Buchenwald and Mittelbau Dora the exhibition on Topf and Sons which they created. Obviously such a letter can not appear in the Auschwitz archives – Auschwitz is overrun by the Russians by February 1945. The logical place would be the Mauthausen archives…..but there is a problem: the Mauthausen archives are fully catalogued and run by the Austrian Government in Vienna. A search of the holdings there shows that it has almost no construction and building documents at all in its archives (excepting a few layout maps and a memo ordering the deconstruction of the Hartheim euthanesia facility). Which would make this archive a problematic choice, leaving aside the difficulty of actually smuggling such a document in and inserting a new catalogue record.
What about the archive of Topf and Son? Unfortunately this archive was by 2005 also fully catalogued and run by the professional archivists of Thuringau State archives. Besides as an “original” letter it would be odd to end up there, instead of a simple “Abschrift” typed copy kept as a record of correspondence. So in what archive is this letter to be found in then? According to the handbook of the “Topf and Sons” exhibition, this letter is found in the Terezin archives in the Czech republic.
Although how it is supposed to have found its way there is anyone’s guess.
But there is still one further problem with this letter and that is testimony the supposed author, engineer Kurt Pruefer, gave under SMERSH interrogation in March 1946 in Erfurt:
Q. How often and with what aim did you visit Auschwitz?
A. Five times. The first time at the beginning of 1943, to receive orders of the SS Command where the Kremas were to be built. The second time in spring 1943 to inspect the building site. The third time was in autumn 1943 to inspect a fault in the construction of a Krema chimney. The forth time at the beginning of 1944, to inspect the repaired chimney. The fifth time in September-October 1944, when I visited Auschwitz with the intended relocation [from Auschwitz] of the crematoriums, since the front was getting nearer. The crematoriums were not relocated, because there were not enough workers.
Now whether or not Pruefer was incorrect on the issue of if the ovens were evacuated is beside the point. According to the report of the Soviet Commission they were, but even if this was the case it could have been done after Pruefer’s visit and without his knowledge or his assistance. The bigger question is how is it possible for Pruefer to give such testimony (when he is “freely” confessing to designing gas chambers for the purposes of killing people) if only a year before, in February 1945, he had been proposing to rebuild these evacuated ovens in Mauthausen?