The Reader, which I vaguely recall reading the book but not the film, if I recall correctly revolves around a former female SS guard who is charged with neglected to let concentration camp inmates out of a church that has been set on fire during Allied air raids in the dying days of the war. Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White recounts a story near Leipzig that might have represented something similar in real life:
On the afternoon of the same day that Bill Walton and I had canvassed the City Hall, we had driven to the outskirts of Leipzig to hunt up an aircraft small-parts factory which had been an 8th Air Force bombing target […]
As we searched for the factory along a narrow country road bisecting ploughed fields, we began to smell a peculiar odor, quite different from anything in our experience. We followed the smell until we saw, across a small meadow, a ten-foot barbed-wire fence which, curiously, seemed to surround nothing at all. Parking the jeep, we ran through a small gate into the enclosure, and found ourselves standing at the edge of an acre of bones.
There was no one there; that is, there was no living person. But flying grotesquely over the patch of skulls and charred ribs, from a tall slender flag-pole, was a white surrender flag. There was eloquent testimony that the men who had been there so recently had not willing surrendered to death. Plunged into the four-foot wide barrier of close-meshed barbed wire were blackened human figures whose desperate attitudes showed their passionate attempts to break to freedom. Caught in the spiked coils, they had perished, flaming torches, as they tried to escape.
Nothing was left standing among the ashes, except the incongruous flag pole at the far edge. Dotting the ghastly mottled carpet which covered the area were dozens of identical little graniteware basins and among them a scattering of spoons. [Margaret Bourke-White in Walter Kempowski’s Swansong. pp 39-40]
An unexplored dimension of the concentration camp system is the intersection between Allied propaganda and the small number of Allied personnel who ended up imprisoned in them. The supposed boot testing track of Sachsenhausen is an interesting case in point:
Wikipedia describes the image above as: “Part of shoe testing track in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Prisoners who belonged in “Schuhläuferkommando”, shoe testing unit had to walk on this days and days.” British POWs captured in raids on Norway were supposedly transferred to Sachsenhausen and were forced to work in this commando, as described by MI9 historian Michael Foot: (more…)
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:
Recently my attention was drawn to an overall excellent article regarding Anton Pacholegg, a rather incredible witness from Dachau, and his testimony regarding human skin leather production at Dachau, which can be read here. Overall the biographical detail and the subsequent career of Anton Pacholegg makes Dr Joachim Neander’s article fascinating, although I would disagree with some points of interpretation.
Anton Pacholegg was also heavily involved with one of Dr Sigismund Rascher’s more infamous projects, the development of an anti-coagulant for the pre-surgical treatment of wounded soldiers, Polygal. The concept being that given this drug would greatly reduce bleeding and thereby improve survival prospects. Without doubt a worthwhile concept, a typical summary of this aspect of Rascher’s career might be as follows:
Another of Rascher’s major research efforts focused on the introduction of a pectin-based preparation, Polygal, to promte blood clotting. He predicted that the prophylactic use of Polygal tablets would reduce bleeding from wounds sustained in combat or during surgical procedures. The agent was also recommended for the control of spontaneous gastrointestinal and pulmonary hemorrhages. Combat woulds were simulated by the amputation of the viable extremities of camp prisoners without anesthesia or by shooting the prisoners through the neck and chest.
Rascher also claimed that oral premedication with Polygal minimized bleeding during major surgical procedures, rendering hemostatic clips or ligatures unnecessary and shortening operating times. He published an enthusiastic article about his clinical experiece with Polygal, withou specifying the nature of some of the trial in humans. The paper concluded. “The tests of this medicine “Polygal 10″ showed no failures under the most varied circumstances.” Rascher also formed a company to manufacture Polygal and used prisoners to work in the factory. (more…)
I posted recently about a visit to the Mauthausen memorial center where I raised the possibility that one of the ovens there may have been constructed after liberation. Surprising confirmation of this possibility came recently when someon uploaded onto the Internet a description of visiting Mauthausen on May 9 1945, only a couple of days post liberation. I have post the entire description and below I discuss the parts of the testimony that seem to confirm the presence of only a single oven.
This is a post that I will use both to illustrate the odd behaviour of people who see it as their duty to “defend history” and also to show some rather odd features of the Topf ovens at Mauthausen and the questions it raises about the politicised nature of these memorial sites.
People get all kinds of strange ideas that these was something uniquely brilliant in the design of Topf ovens. Comments range from “a special oven designed to run on human fat” to JC Pressac’s “a technological little marvel.” Partly this is to justify the absurdly inflated corpses they were supposed to have processed every hour of every day. In fact, they were very basic and unsophisticated designs. In one online discussion I had, a person claiming engineering and physics expertise said that Topf ovens possessed a “gasifier unit” where producer gas was collected and piped off to be combusted in jets beneath the corpse. To prove his point he circled on the Mauthausen Topf diagram of 1940 where he believed this unit was.
Lets look further. (more…)
The following is the testimony given by Franz Blaha shortly after liberation of Dachau in the Seventh Army war crimes investigators from May 3 to May 18 1945. The version of the file PS 2586 which I have is scans of not always legible carbon copies, so there will be some transcription errors, particularly in names. Some errors, including those of spellings of names are present in the stenographic record, everything in square brackets is from me, usually indicating uncertainity on my part. There are sure to be some mistakes (more…)
One of my beliefs is that our understanding of Holocaust history has been distorted by the systematic tainting of archives, primarily but not solely in the Eastern Bloc. One of these is the Czech Military Archive in Prague that in 1968 released a documentary collection regarding the RF-SS entitled Unsere Ehre heisst Treue. This was a facismile collection detailing atrocities during the invasion of the Soviet Union 1941 and 1942. (more…)
One of the problematic areas of Holocaust historiography is the claim the non-registered prisoners or departures from camp (Abgaenge) meant gassing. Given the establishment of the camp memorial archives was usually in the hands of elements hostile to the Nazis it can be difficult to disprove. (more…)
Orthodox Holocaust historians often display an approach reminiscent of the drunk man and the lamp post – they use documents for support, not illumination. Richard Breitman’s biography of Heinrich Himmler provides a classic example. (more…)