michael mills wrote:Some years ago, I read the two books about Gerstein by Friedlaender and Joffroy. I had the impression that the book by Joffroy was a simple hagiography, whereas that by Fiedlaender was more measured.
Most conventional historians have that impression because Joffroy (whom I knew very well) chose to write in an unconventional, journalistic, and sensitive manner – meaning the study of the character himself in order to reach an understanding of the events the data partially reveals; an endeavor these same historians, predictably (yawn), consider a ‘sentimental approach’. Character analysis is also an essential component of historical study, and it seems all the more relevant in the case of Gerstein’s complex personality and behavior. It certainly has nothing to do with hagiography, a title conveniently dumped on Joffroy because, despite the very real problems linked to Gerstein’s report, he believed (as I do) in the essential truth behind Gerstein’s motivations and acts. And so does Saul Friedländer, for that matter. Joffroy met all the witnesses: Hygiene Institute members, Waffen-SS colleagues, family, friends, foes, Baron Von Otter etc. and had therefore access to first hand testimony – contrary to Friedländer who was essentially working on second hand sources. His book – tightly knit but very conventional contains twice as less data and suffers, despite his essential endeavor, from a glaring absence of a point of view. The canon of professional historiography calls for the historian to exhaust all the sources (above all the primary sources) relating to his topic, but in Gerstein’s case (and in the state of present day research about him), this may no longer be possible. So what are we left with? Among serious historians who ‘know how to read’, does ‘serious’ mean ‘professional’? Yes, and no. The notion that serious – meaning ‘reliable’ – history can only be written by holders of a Ph.D. is an illusion. This is especially evident in Gerstein’s case where we find professional and nonacademic writers alike. No authors dealing with Gerstein have ventured otherwise than superficially into his personality
(apart from Joffroy and Friedländer), and this, once more, for the simple fear of being considered ‘sentimentalists’ – a heresy in the closed world of professional history studies, but certainly not a universal truth. It’s quite obvious to me that ‘objective’ historiography is a mirage. I remain convinced that – in the absence of new or relevant evidence – the report’s ‘readability’ and credibility are not only dependant on parallel research but also intimately linked to a sensitive understanding of Gerstein as a person, of the circumstances of his experience, of his recounting of it, and ultimately of human behavior. I’ll add – and this is valid for honest historians as well as revisionists – that most critics or analysts of the report take Gerstein’s recorded numerical and anecdotic data at face value without taking into account the margin of error that true criticism requires in order to reach the 2nd degree of analysis: the one concerning subjective testimony on passed experiences, perception of time, space, and numbers, or even memory gaps which, particularly in the case of testimony written long after an event (3 years in this case), are often filled with personal fragments…
The case of Gerstein’s credibility cannot be decided solely on assumptions that such or such an event was ‘unlikely’ or that an officer from 4BIV ‘could not’ have met him. What we know is that intermingling of services for precise motives was possible and did happen. I am perfectly conscious of Gerstein’s ambivalence as a person. From his youth he had always been seeking recognition from others, he was a born actor, very rebellious, obsessively religious, eccentric, generous financially speaking, but also very egocentric. These negative and positive qualities don’t really set him apart from hundreds of millions of people, not enough at any rate to dismiss him as a fabricator; they may even have been the source of his resistance. There are vast quantities of letters written by Gerstein still available and, admittedly, their contents diverge on certain points – but they were addressed to different types of people, for different reasons, and in troubled times. As for his supposed ‘unbalance’ (such as described by Roques and his apostles), Gerstein suffered from severe hypoglycemia that caused him occasional fainting or ‘absences’ NOT hallucinations. As for his sudden change of character, all his friends agree that he started sinking into depression a few months after his visit to the AR camps.
I personally find no fundamental ‘ambiguity’ in Gerstein’s report. Clearly, it is not to be read as the precise minutes of what happened to him during his mission to Lublin, Belzec, and Treblinka
, but as a composite account of his overall experience and impressions, written three years after the event.
The historical fact is that Gerstein was deeply implicated in the procuring of Zyklon-B for homicidal purposes, as well as for the normal hygienic use of the product.
It is true that Gerstein – on his own free will and under the illusion that he could do something to disrupt extermination on his own – was implicated in the procuring of Zyklon B for both homicidal/hygienic purposes in Auschwitz, but only from December 1943 or January 1944 onwards, and certainly not on his own: The SS had been regularly supplied with Zyklon B by the distributor companies themselves, both at Majdanek and Auschwitz, prior to that date. Zyklon B supply to any camp required three separate approvals from higher SS authorities: one sanitation-medical, one financial and one budgetary approval. It was only from July 1943 onwards that the distributor companies were no longer permitted to supply Zyklon B directly to the camps; the latter had to direct their requests to the Main Sanitation Office in Berlin-Lichtenberg (and not the Waffen-SS Institute in Charlottenburg) The basis for this change in supply procedure was the Reich Minister of Commerce’s Edict II L 120151/43, as well as Edict Rü A Rü I Nr. 15325/43, issued on July 22, 1943, by the Reich Minister of Arms and Ammunition about the expansion of central procurement of supplies for sanitation purposes.
n 1943, he reached an agreement with the head of Degesch, Gerhard Peters, for the supply of Zyklon-B without the warning agent "under the table", by passing the legal channel through the firm of Tesch & Stabenow, which held the monopoly for the distribution of Zyklon-B in all areas east of the Elbe.
Dr Gehrard’s testimony in court (1947) regarding the agreement is clear: Gerstein asked him to have the warning agent removed from the gas ‘as it caused increased suffering to the victims’. That may well be what Gerstein really thought, but I don’t think so. My hunch is that he had other motives – such as informing Peters directly of the homicidal use of his gas and obtaining warning agent removal as a pretext to retain handling control… He also asked Peters to have the invoices sent directly to him personally and not to the Institute (which they were, at the Leipzigerstrasse – his 3rd flat). Right or wrong, desperate, demented or ingenuous, Gerstein’s request cannot, one way or another, be discarded. Many others testified after the war that during the war Gerstein informed them about the gassings. They include not only Dr. Peters of Degesch, but also Pastor Rehling; Baron von Otter; Bishop Otto Dibelius; J.H. Ubbink (who transmitted to Cornelius Van der Hooft); Paul Hochstrasser the Swiss diplomat; Pastor Mochalsky; Dr. Hermann Ehlers, the architect Otto Völkers, Frau Alexandra Bälz; Herr and Frau Heinz Nebelthau; Egon Franz; SS-Rottenführer Horst Dickten, his assistant, Armin Peters… and many others. Dr. Mrugowsky also learned of Gerstein’s bad reaction to the AR camps mission from Gerstein himself, after the latter had attempted suicide in December 1942, 4 months after the visit (witnesses: Frau Virk and Fraulein Suzanne Dumont – both secretaries at the Waffen-SS Institute, and Horst Dickten). We also know from various witnesses within the Institute that Mrugowsky and Gerstein were playing a sort of double game with each other wherein Mrugowsky protected Gerstein from SS and NSDAP disciplinary measures at least twice.
The essential purpose of the various versions of the confessions he made soon after the end of the war to two Allied intelligence officers, one British and one American, was to minimise his own role in the use of Zyklon-B for homicidal purposes. To that end, he presented himself as an opponent of homicidal gassing, who used his position as procurer of Zyklon-B for the Waffen-SS to frustrate the homicidal gassing by disrupting the supply.
Gerstein’s testimony, is a report, not a ‘confession’ – this latter terminology is the one used by revisionists in general – and Henri Roques in particular. The notion that he gave colonel J.W. Haught (US) and Major D.C. Evans (UK) – both on assignment for C.I.O.S. to identify combat gas (Tabun, Sarin) plants – to minimize his own role is just speculation on your part. There is not a shred of evidence to support it. Gerstein gave them the report to denounce the crime and, at the same time, in the hope of becoming a star witness.
For example, he claimed that he made the Zyklon-B acquired "under the table" from Gerhard Peters "disappear" by ensuring that it was all used for disinfestation purposes and not for homicidal gassing. In fact, that would not have been hard to do, since as Pressac showed, less than 10% of the Zyklon-B provided to Auschwitz was used for homicidal gassing, the bulk of it being used for the normal delousing purpose.
Maybe not hard to do, as you say, but he was apparently the only one to give it a try – which also speaks for itself.
In his confessions, it is always other people who are driving the homicidal gassing, who issue orders to Gerstein which he tries his best to frustrate. That is probably why he invented the story about being given an order from Eichmann's office.
This is a gratuitous and personal extrapolation – and you’re mixing the ‘Günther order’ with later Auschwitz/Zyklon maneuvers. Are you suggesting the Belzec mission was launched on Gerstein’s decision and that he had to invent a culprit? Gerstein was only an Untersturmführer F at the time (and only recently head of the sanitary department). The mission order to Belzec must have come from above – it was addressed to him because he was a specialist, not a decision maker. Gerstein would only have needed to denounce the order giver… So why mention Günther? In his report, he mentions Pfannenstiel, Globocnik, Wirth, Oberhauser, why suddenly lie about Günther ?
However, Gerstein's efforts to exonerate himself did not succeed. He found out that he was going to be tried for war crimes, and that is why he committed suicide, knowing that his role in supplying Zyklon-B to Auschwitz for a homicidal purpose of which he was fully aware would get him a death sentence (as was the fate of the principals of Tesch $ Stabenow, who were far less guilty).
Very creative. We know from his wife, friends, and Waffen-SS colleagues that he attempted suicide at least twice before the end of the war. Gerstein was depressive, exhausted by hypoglycemia, had surrendered (not been captured) to the French, and wasn’t believed by Judge Matteï who, in any case, didn’t know anything about Aktion Reinhard. Accused of war crimes, ‘traitor’ to the SS, all attempts to get the killings publicized having failed (and therefore his whole implication misunderstood), away from his family (who had been kept in the dark)… There are enough reasons here for a suicide. No offence meant, when I read your messages, despite great knowledge, I sense a complete lack of insight and sensitivity in regards to human nature. You’re a dates, paper, and sources man.
I have no problem at all with the hypothesis that Globocnik wanted to set up an Institute of Hygiene in the Lublin District, which was the area he ruled over. That would explain why Gerstein took a load of Zyklon-B to Lublin, for the purpose of delousing the confiscated clothing of the exterminated Jews.
Wrong. Globocnik told him what the Zyklon was for : « Your other and far more important task is the changeover of our gas chambers which actually work with diesel exhaust fumes into a better and quicker system. I think especially of prussic acid
» (Gerstein report)
And Pfannenstiel confirms : « I wanted to know in particular if this process of exterminating human beings was accompanied by any acts of cruelty. I found it especially cruel that death did not set in until eighteen minutes had passed. I told Globocnik so. He replied that this would go better with prussic acid, but, so far as I know, this acid was never used because Gerstein pointed out to him the dangers inherent in the use of gaseous prussic acid
” (Pfannenstiel before Darmstadt Court, June 6, 1950).
But what is the proof for Eichmann's office being involved in the process of organising an Institute of Hygiene in Lublin, and the conveying of materials toither for hygienic purposes, other than Gerstein's own claim? Eichmann's office was part of the RSHA, and its function was to organise transports of Jews from Germany and the occupied countries to various destinations in the East, initially to ghettos and eventually to concentration camps. It had no involvement in the running of the ghettos or concentration camps to which the Jews were sent; the fate of the Jews on arrival at their destinations was controlled either by the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps or by the local German security organs, the equivalent of Globocnik in Lublin.
Accordingly, it is extremely unlikely that Eichmann's office would have had any involvement whatever in negotiations between Globocnik and the hygiene administration of the Waffen-SS in relation to hygienic measures to be undertaken in Lublin. That was entirely outside the purview of Eichmann's office, and indeed of the RSHA, which was a police and security force, not a medical authority. It needs to be remembered that the two methodologies of homicidal gassing, the one by CO and the other by HCN, were entirely separate from each other, had different origins, and were administered by separate organisations. There was no one organisation overseeing all homicidal gassing.Gassing with CO had its origin in the Euthanasia Program, and resulted from a recommendation by chemists of the Criminal Technical Institute of the RSHA, who had been asked by the T-4 administration to advise on methods of inflicting a painless death. On the recommendation of the chemists, pure manufactured CO was used.
The next step was the use of engine exhaust as the source of the CO for homicidal gassing. That was devised by the Criminal Technical Institute of the RSHA, and arose from the needs of the Security Police on the eastern front, where maqnufactured CO was hard to obtain. Since the Security Police was part of the RSHA, it was natural for the Criminal technical Institute to be involved in solving their problems; the gas van, using its own exhaust as the killing agent, was the result.
So there was service interaction after all (not that I had any doubts)...
But the production of gas vans and their deployment on the eastern front was entirely separate from the Euthanasia Program in Germany run by T-4, which continued to use manufactured CO, and never used engine exhaust. The third step was the introduction of gassing with engine exhaust at the Globocnik camps. Exactly how that came about remains uncertain, since the whole process whereby those camps came into existence is still a mystery. It is unknown where the idea of setting up extermination camps in the Lublin District originated, whether it was Globocnik's initiative, or whehter he was following an order from higher up.
Yes, a mystery. So how can you be so sure and in such peremptory manner?
It is most probable that Globocnik sought advice from the Criminal Technical Institute of the RSHA, and it was that body that suggested the use of engine exhaust, based on the successful operation of the gas vans on the eastern front. However, the role of the KTI was that of an expert consultant, since Globocnik was not under the control of the RSHA, and operated completlely independently.
In order to understand Gerstein's functions, and determine what parts of his confessions are likely to be true and what parts falsified to some extent, it is necessary to understand the bureaucratic environment in which he was working, and the functions of the different parts of that bureaucracy.
While it is true that the different parts of the German bureaucracy worked together on common projects, they each contributed to a common project in accordance with their specific functions.
Therefore, when a claim is made that a member of one specific part of the bureaucracy was doing something totally unrelated to his proper function, the suspicion arises that the claim is false.
Throughout this thread you rigidly invoke the sacrosanct argument that such or such service in the SS was like this or that and that therefore it could not happen. But that is wrong. Do you know for sure
that the order didn’t come from Günther? Or do you just think
it impossible? Organizations and services are people. People behave in all sorts of unpredictable manners and heads of organizations or services can decide exceptional measures whenever they see fit – as the history of the Holocaust demonstrates without a doubt.
In 1942, Eichmann was very much an obscure character, who sat in an office in Berlin organising transports of Jews. At the place of origin of the transports, the rounding up of the Jews to be deported was carried out by the local German security agencies, in response to orders issued by Eichmann's office, usually overseen by a liaison officer from that office.
Since in 1942 Gerstein was not involved with transports of Jews, but only with the work of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen-SS, which did include the delousing of concentration camps, it is unlikely that he would have come into contact with any members of Eichmann's office. At that stage he probably did not even know who Eichmann was. Eichmann did not become well known until 1944, when he was sent to Hungary with full powers to organise the deportation of Jews from that country. He was attached to the office of the German plenipotentiary in Hungary, Veesenmayer, and as such operated very much in the open, in the full glare of publicity.
Nowhere does Gerstein make any mention of Eichmann; I don’t believe he knew who he was either – at the time of Günther’s visit. But he does clearly state that it was Rolf Günther (a pretty secretive character as well) who came in civilian clothes to order the Blausäure. Maybe is it ‘unlikely that he would have come into contact with any members of Eichmann's office’ but in no way impossible. One cannot shrug that statement off simply on the grounds that it was ‘unlikely’. Why would he have invented that name and service in particular seeing they were only involved in ‘transportation’? That would have been obviously counterproductive. Maybe you’re trying to find tortuous answers to refute an otherwise banal (albeit unusual) event. I see no ambiguity here, I’m sorry.
Accordingly, when he came to compose his confession, including his account of witnessing the gassing of a transport of Jews at Belzec, he must have assumed that Eichmann's office had been involved in some way in what had seen, so it was natural for him to describe the person who had given him the order to take Zyklon-B to Lublin as someone from that office.
So in fact, you’re assuming that Gerstein assumed?
There is no a single doubt in my mind that the ‘Belzec Mission’ of August 1942 was a highly organized affair. And we will probably never know the whole truth. Researchers seem to have focused so much on the discrepancies between Gerstein’s report and Pfannenstiel’s testimony that they have come to ignore his very dubious status in the whole affair. In my view, Pfannenstiel’s testimony is a desperate attempt to dissociate himself not only from Gerstein but also from Aktion Reinhard in which I believe he was far more involved than appears at first glance. His function as a Waffen-SS specialized adviser in hygiene and bacteriology (from 1939 onwards) included inspection of SS barracks but also of concentration camps on German soil. He was also involved in criminal medical experiments (high altitude) with Dr. Rascher. His 1950 claims that he was ordered to Lublin in August 1942 for urban sanitation operations (of which nothing is known), and that he travelled with Gerstein – therefore on a top-secret Aktion Reinhard mission – as a simple ‘passenger’, and ultimately that he ‘visited’ Belzec, witnessed a gassing (or gassings) as a simple ‘spectator’ (‘I asked to visit the camp
’) invited by Globocnik, are obviously absurd. Pfannenstiel desperately tries to imply that he wasn’t part of the operation at all. All this is nonsense. On the contrary, everything indicates that Gerstein and Pfannenstiel were both individually appointed to Lublin, both with different tasks, within a single operation: deal with hygienic hazards in the Aktion Reinhard camps, and that, to a certain extent, their respective missions overlapped. It could also be argued that, at the beginning of the trip, each was ignorant of the exact detail of the other’s mission, or that Gerstein had a superficial knowledge of Pfannenstiel’s ‘official’ mission: urban sanitation. Yet, if Globocnik, in charge of a top-secret KdF operation, openly informed Pfannenstiel that ‘there was a camp at Belzec where Jews were killed
’ it could only have been because the latter had been mandated there. As Pfannenstiel readily admits, he was not entrusted with clothes disinfection; that was Gerstein’s ‘official’ job: ‘Knowing that Dr. Gerstein was in charge of disinfection work
’ (a claim confirmed in Gerstein’s German report: ‘Globocnik consulted me alone and said: ‘It is your task in particular to disinfect the extensive amounts of textiles
’). So why was Pfannenstiel there? For what reason would an SS hygiene expert visit an extermination camp at a time when the groundwater was polluted and vermin-ridden due to mass burials other than to devise an efficient and hygienic corpse disposal method?
To conclude this tedious conversation, I’ll just add that I know I haven’t convinced you at all and that you probably consider me amateurish. But neither have you convinced me in any way either. I also find a good many of your arguments concerning Gerstein – the person – very close to revisionist argumentation from which you may have hand-picked only the extracts that suit your theory, and fitted them in your otherwise impeccable knowledge of RSHA functioning.
No hard feelings