The Temptation and Redemption of James Dalrymple
Having been rereading some of the books on the David Irving – Deboral Lipstadt libel case, I was recently remind just what extraordinary things Holocaust Fever can do to otherwise sane individuals. One of the courtroom stoushes was whether or not the lift from the basement of Krema II and III to the ground floor would represent a bottle-neck in operations. James Dalrymple, in a momentarily lapse in faith, wrote:
How could 500,000 bodies — the number estimated to have died in that one crematorium — be transported up a single lift-shaft, only about 9ft square. Irving demanded that Van Pelt now do the arithmetic of nightmares. How much could the lift carry? 750 kilos, 1,500 kilos, 3,000 kilos? How many bodies would that be at, say 60 kilos a body? Were they in gurneys or were they just squeezed in, like people squashed into a telephone box? How long to take each batch up to the ovens? Ten minutes, or more, each batch? Twenty corpses at a time, or 25?
Van Pelt entered into the exercise reluctantly, and his answers were unclear. It was not helpful to count the numbers of lift journeys, but rather the time it took to burn each batch. In the end, no conclusion was reached on this point. Nobody came up with a pat figure that would make such a logistics exercise possible or impossible during the years the crematorium was operational, But Irving repeated his phrase over and over again. The Bottleneck.
And on the way home in the train that night, to my shame, I took out a pocket calculator and began to do some sums. Ten, minutes for each batch of 25. I tapped in. That makes 150 an hour. Which gives 3,600 for each 24-hour period. Which gives 1,314,000 in a year. So that’s fine. It could be done. Thank God, the numbers add up.
When I realised what I was doing, I almost threw the little machine across the compartment in rage.
A more moving and triumph-of-the-human-spirit type account of intellectual wavering and ultimate resistance has not been written since Luther saw the devil lurking in the corner of his study and hurled an ink-well at him or her. But just because something is in the realms of mathematically possibility does not mean it is either true or even probable.
I have uploaded pictures here of what the basement area of Krema II and Krema III (the buildings under discussion in this matter) looks like today. Fortunately, the crematorium at Buchenwald has many similar structural features to Krema II and III of Auschwitz/Birkenau and may serve as a model for what the facilities actually looked like. Just to avoid confusion I should specify that when I refer to the crematorium at Buchenwald, I refer not to the old crematorium of which we have comprehensive construction records. Rather I refer to the new crematorium, the crematorium that from the outside looked strangely like a bakery, and for whose construction we have no records at all.
Above you can see the elevator as it appears today, from less clear archival footage and my own inspection it seems to be in exactly the same condition as it was at liberation. Notice the excellent occupational health and safety feature of not allowing an open shaft for people to fall down. The load (of whatever…..) was brought up to waist height for unloading. I leave it to the individual reader to judge if 25 corpses or 25 anything else at a time is a realistic assumption.
But what came up must have originally gone down and in the photo below we see the chute, where whatever was stored in the cellar of the crematorium (which from outside looked like a bakery) was delivered:
I suppose at a pinch you could throw bodies down it, it seems a rather messy way of dealing with them.
That was Buchenwald, but apart from the apparent similarity of building layout, do we have any other indications that the elevators were the same? I have above linked to a post where the opening of the elevator shaft in the basement of Krema III can be just made out, and it appears of similiar width and length. We also have a photo of an elevator found in the Auschwitz building yard after liberation:
Photograph [PMO neg. no. 205/37] of a provisional 300 kg capacity goods hoist used in Krematorium II  , found in the Bauhof in 1945. The order for its construction is to be found in the “Metal working” file, Annex 15 of Volume 11 of the Höss trial:
“Order No 61 of 15/2/43 — POW camp Krematorium II/III BW 30.
Subject: 1 goods lift with a minimum payload of 300 kg. including the fitting of suitable winches, cable and motor and the guide rail.
Order No 2563/:146:/ of 26/1/43 from the Bauleitung.
Order taken over from the former prisoners’ metalworking shop. Completed on 13/3/43.”
Although I have never heard of a technical specification of a lift that included a “minimum payload.” There is a claim based on a single document that this was replaced at some unknown date by a lift with 1500 capacity although no one can show the lift and for certain no remains are present in the basement of Krema III. In anycase they couldnt make the elevator shaft any wider, so if a 1500 kilogram hoist was indeed installed, it was massively over-engineered for any load it was going to be able to deliver.
Of course, it is not fair to single out James Dalrymple in such a fashion. Given the assignment there could hardly be any other way in which he could write his copy. I have oftened wondered whether, 40 years from now, we will have passionate discussions like we do today about the “Good German” – what was a realistic expectation of a goodness or morality could we set for the ordinary German caught in Nazi Germany? How can we be sure we would have met that standard ourselves? So also I believe we will have the same discussions in happier times ahead about the perhaps mythical construct, “The Good Journalist”.
Consider the London bombings of 2005. In the immediate aftermath an unnamed security source told the Washington Times: “We think it was intended as an al Qaeda message–to seemingly blow up in the form [of] a fiery cross in the heart of the Christian infidels.” I have been reliably informed by the MI5 handlers that the resulting balls-up, where one of the mules took a bus instead of the underground tube, was not their fault but because the idiotic recruits were unable to read a train timetable properly. A stunning indictment on the British education system and a slap in the face to the Prince of Darkness to boot. The situation was only partially retrieved when London’s finest managed to chase Jean Charles de Menezes down into Stockwell tube station and put a bullet through his brain. Through the most unfortunate of coincidences this incident happened to form an almost perfect crucifix with the 3 “successful” underground explosions of a fortnight prior.
It is in such a situation we need to consider what standard of conduct we can reasonably demand from that rarest of birds: The Good Journalist. Outright disobediance or rebellion is not a realistic requirement, nor could I honestly say I would act that way myself. Perhaps, in light of the hegemonic authority The Good Journalist is faced with, what could be asked of him or her is silence. Silence on the issues where our society has become irredeemably corrupted. Silence on the Holocaust, silence on terrorism, silence on security issues, silence on the enemy country du jour; although it is true, that doesn’t leave all that much to write about.
Isaac Babel in the 1930s as the Terror began to grip the Soviet Union, told a literary conference that he was going to experiment with a new kind of literature, the literature of silence. That also would be the path our hypothetical Good Journalist would take in today’s environment, he would practice the Journalism of Silence.
So we cannot criticise James Dalrymple for writing foolish and slightly narcissistic nonsense about Auschwitz, but we can criticise him for not chosing the Journalism of Silence.