The Holocaust Historiography Project

Pressac and his footnotes

By Lyle Burkhead

Context for this page: On the Six Reasons page, I said that when I read the article by Pressac in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, by Gutman and Berenbaum, the only footnote I was able to check turned out to be bogus.

What would happen if I looked up the other footnotes? Are there any footnotes that don’t lead to a dead end? I haven’t found any so far.

Pressac’s description of the events is amazingly detailed. Page 232:

That same night, 1,492 women, children, and old people, selected from a convoy of 2,000 Jews from the Krakow ghetto, were killed in the new crematorium …

1,492! Not 1,488 or 1,497… How could he possibly know that? Who was counting?

Pressac does not say “SS Rottenfuehrer Hans Klappen was responsible for keeping the records of this operation. His daily reports are filed as document K/B 322 in the archives at Auschwitz. The page describing the gassing of 1492 Jews is reproduced as figure 25.” Alas, no. Nothing of the kind. He just says that 1492 women, children, and old people were killed. Period. The footnote for this is number 133, which is simply “Czech, p. 440.”

We have no indication whatever of where Danuta Czech got this information. As I read, I wondered: where is all this coming from? Is there a clear line drawn in Pressac’s mind between what he knows and what he doesn’t know? How critical is he of his sources? Does Pressac have the same reverence for facts that Charles Darwin had? What kind of book is this?

He never says anything about his sources, even though the whole point of this is that Pressac is supposed to produce definitive documentation for the gas chambers. That is precisely what he does not produce. He just gives footnote after footnote of the form “Czech, p. 440” or “Moscow, 502-1-312, letter Grabner January 31, 1942.”

On page 234, Pressac writes:

The first gassing in crematorium IV did not go well. An SS man, wearing a face mask, had to climb a little ladder to get to a “window,” then open it with one hand and pour in the Zyklon B with the other. This acrobatic routine had to be repeated six times. When the gas-tight doors were opened to evacuate the gas, it was noticed that the natural aeration was ineffective; a door had to be cut immediately into the north corridor to get an air current flowing.

This, of course, is the paragraph I mentioned before, on the Six Reasons page. The footnote for this is number 143, which says simply “Auschwitz Album (New York, 1980), photo 112.” Leaving aside the fact that photo 112 is totally irrelevant, consider the very idea of using a photograph as a reference for this paragraph. He says “this acrobatic routine had to be repeated six times.” Could a photo show the routine being repeated six times? He says “it was noticed that the natural aeration was ineffective.” Could a photo show someone noticing this?

This goes on, page after page. Another example, this time from page 238:

The massacre of Hungarian Jews in May and June 1944 was carried out principally in crematoria II, III, and V. The furnace of crematorium V was rapidly overwhelmed, and pits were dug alongside its gas chambers to incinerate the victims in the open air. Also, bunker 2 was reactivated for the occasion to handle small groups, whose bodies were burned in an incineration pit measuring 30 sq m. [154] Toward the end of the summer, when Zyklon B began to run short, victims were flung headlong into the burning pits of crematorium V and bunker 2.

The footnote is:

154. Moscow/October Revolution, Russian plan of bunker 2, scale 1:1000 of March 3, 1945.

Is this plan of bunker 2 the source of the statement about the massacre of Hungarian Jews? Is this the source of the statement that victims were flung headlong into the burning pits? No, obviously it couldn’t be. The plan of bunker 2 can only be a source for the measurement of 30 sq m. No source is given for the other assertions in this paragraph.

In the introduction to this chapter, page 183, one of the authors (apparently Van Pelt) says

This essay presents the history of the instruments of extermination employed by the Germans against Jews and others at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is based on ten years' study of the archives of the architectural and construction office of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS), which built the camps at Auschwitz.

The next paragraph of the introduction states that Pressac also used material in the archives in Poland, Germany, Israel, and (later) Russia. We are never told what kind of documents these are.

One document is exhibited on page 231. It is a letter from the construction company, responding to an inquiry about gas detectors. No doubt many such documents exist, and they prove conclusively what we already know, i.e. that the crematoria were built.

But what documents support Pressac’s statements about the killing of Jews? How could he possibly know that “this acrobatic routine had to be repeated six times,” or “victims were flung headlong into the burning pits"?

When Pressac keeps on claiming to know things he could not possibly know, he destroys his own credibility. Yet another example, this one on page 239: “At the end of November, on a verbal order from Himmler, the gassings were halted.” There is no footnote for this. How would Pressac know about a verbal order from Himmler? Until you give me a good reason to think otherwise, I have to assume that he is making this up.

The document exhibited on page 231 is interesting because it establishes that there are documents of some kind in the archives, and it is possible to look at them and make copies of them. Someday I would like to go over there and see what’s in the archives, and get this nailed down once and for all.

I would also like to check out the revisionists' footnotes. They may be bogus too! However, based on what I have seen so far, that would surprise me.

In other words, I want to find out what happened by systematically looking at the evidence, i.e. by tracing footnotes back to their sources. As far as I'm concerned, it’s self-evident that if you want to get to the bottom of this, that’s the only way to proceed. It doesn’t do any good to talk about who the revisionists are, who the anti-revisionists are, and what their motives are. That may be an interesting discussion in its own right, but it doesn’t tell you anything about whether there were gas chambers. Before you try to understand what happened at Auschwitz on a thematic level, first you have to establish what happened on a factual level, and the only way to do that is to look at the original documents and the physical evidence.

In 1995, after reading Pressac’s article, I wrote a letter to Michael Shermer. That letter is the source of the comments above: “consider the very idea of using a photograph as a reference for this paragraph … Could a photo show the routine being repeated six times?”

At that time I had no idea what the Auschwitz Album was. I could have looked it up at UCLA, but I don’t get over there much anymore, and I didn’t think it was that important. More than a year later, on a trip up the coast, I stopped at San Luis Obispo. It’s a college town about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and it’s an ideal place to stop for a day or two. I was in the library, and I thought “As long as I'm here, I wonder if they have the Auschwitz Album?” Sure enough, they did. I looked up photo 112. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it would at least be a picture of crematorium IV. But it isn’t. I thought it would at least have something to do with the paragraph it’s supposed to support. But it doesn’t.

That moment was an epiphany for me. That was when I began to understand what kind of people I'm dealing with.

Several years later …

I am having second thoughts about my statement that “I began to understand what kind of people I'm dealing with.” Maybe I haven’t understood at all.

Tonight (October 23, 2004) I have been pondering a strange question.

Pressac must have known that any serious person who read his article would look up footnote 143, since it’s the only one that can be looked up. It’s not that hard to find the Auschwitz Album and check out photo 112. Anyone with access to a large university library can do that. It can be done in less than an hour, if you are already on campus. He must have expected some of his readers to do it. Why did he plant that obviously bogus footnote in his notes, where any serious reader would be sure to find it?

He didn’t have to attach a footnote to that paragraph at all. If he wanted to make up a phony footnote, he could have made up a reference to some imaginary document in the archives in Moscow, and no one would ever know. But instead he used a reference to a book that’s easily available in many libraries. He must have had a reason for this.

Is it a clue? A hint? Is he trying to tell us something?

In his 1989 book Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, he said the total number of deaths at Auschwitz was, in round numbers, one million. A revisionist who said that in Germany, Switzerland or Austria would be looking at some serious jail time, but Pressac said it and got away with it, since he’s an anti-revisionist.

In his 1993 book, The Crematoria of Auschwitz: The Mass Murder’s Machinery, he reduced his estimate to 775,000 to 800,000, and then in the German edition, published a year later, he reduced it further to 630,000 to 710,000. A revisionist would be arrested for saying that, but he got away with it. He’s an anti-revisionist.

Isn’t he?

Well, he says he is. People never pretend to do one thing when they are actually doing something else, do they?

In a review of his 1989 book, Enrique Aynat writes

To sum up, Pressac acknowledges that there is no documentary evidence to establish a homicidal gassing in the supposed gas chamber of Crematorium I of Auschwitz. In lieu of that, the French author provides the testimonies of four witnesses. These testimonies, however, all either show “the general tendency to exaggerate at that time” (A. Fajnzylberg); include “involuntary errors and embellishments, and perhaps even lies” (F. Müller); come from someone who “was present, without seeing” (R. Höss); or “have been 'slightly' reworked by the Poles” so that they are not serviceable in their present version [P. Broad].

The conclusion follows that, insofar as concerns the sources provided by Pressac, the existence of a homicidal gas chamber in Crematorium I of Auschwitz must be considered historically unfounded.

And then at the end of the review, Aynat says

In sum, Pressac’s work not only fails to refute the Revisionist thesis, as he intended, but on the contrary makes clear how very justified are the criticism and skepticism of the Revisionists with regard to the supposed homicidal gas chambers of Auschwitz.

As he intended? Are you sure that’s what he intended? He said his intention was to refute the revisionists, but if you read his work carefully, he actually supports revisionist positions. Maybe he did exactly what he intended to do.

Is it possible that Pressac’s writings on this subject are a false flag operation? Why did he plant that obviously bogus footnote in his notes?

After writing the above, I found a page which reveals something about who Pressac is. It says:

How does he stand politically today, the same reporter asked Pressac? “I'm of the Right,” he answered. “By upbringing and education, I'm a maniac for order.” But in a French election today, Pressac continued, he wouldn’t vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme Right National Front, whose propaganda often has anti-Semitic and Revisionist overtones. “After what I said about the gas chambers, I'm not well liked in those circles,” he says.

I'm not saying he consciously set out to undermine the anti-revisionist position. People aren’t that simple. He may not be fully conscious of what he’s doing even now. Consciousness is like a firefly, sometimes on, sometimes off.

But still — when he sat there at his desk and wrote footnote 143, knowing that it was bogus, and knowing that it would be discovered, what was he thinking?

When I wrote this page (i.e. the part at the top), it was a proposal for something called the Dead Footnote Society. The idea was to organize field trips to the archives, among other things. I also wanted to establish a physical presence on college campuses. The Society was supposed to be an organization that would have meetings, sponsor debates, etc., and get this issue out in the open.

Looking back now, after five years, I don’t know why I thought it was necessary to go to the archives. Apparently the full import of my own Six Reasons argument had yet to sink in. The evidence one needs to settle the gas chamber question is already in plain view. Whatever we found in the archives could only confirm what we already know. Nothing in the archives could possibly alter the fact that the rooms that are supposed to be gas chambers are not gas chambers.

If people believe that there is an elephant in the basement, nothing anybody finds in the archives will have any effect on that belief. If somebody went to Auschwitz and Moscow and discovered that most of Pressac’s footnotes are bogus, it wouldn’t make any difference. We are dealing with a belief that wasn’t based on evidence in the first place.

Most people see the red pencil as longer than the green pencil. The question is why they see the red pencil as longer.

George Orwell said “The right to say that 2 + 2 = 4 is fundamental. Given that, everything else follows.”

This was the most profound statement made about politics in the 20th century. What I want to understand is why it’s so hard to assert that right, both politically and psychologically.

November 6, 2005

It may be true, as I said above, that whatever we find in the archives would be redundant. However, if it were known that Pressac’s footnotes are bogus, that would make it easier for people to see that the green pencil is longer. In the Six Reasons argument, all six reasons are necessary. They reinforce each other.

Traffic on this site has picked up dramatically this year. The Six Reasons page has gotten more than 25,000 visitors so far in 2005, more than in the first five years of its existence. Not only that, I think we are in the midst of a large scale cultural change, especially in Europe. As Israel’s behaviour gets more and more egregious, accusations of “antisemitism” are losing their sting. Meanwhile, the internet has made it possible to evade censorship and tell people what the revisionist position actually is. It is becoming apparent to more and more people that the revisionists are right. We have just about reached the tipping point. Revisionism has the momentum now. It can no longer be stopped. In the past, mentioning revisionism was academic suicide. In the future, it’s going to be the other way around — historians who are not revisionists will be in disgrace. If you are a student contemplating an academic career, now is the time to stake out your position.

You might also be interested in the Jumping Together page, which discusses the philosophical side of revisionism. That is where my address can be found. Comments are welcome. If you are serious enough about this subject to read this page and the Jumping Together page, I would like to hear from you.