Monday, 7 October 2013

Thomas Harding's tall Auschwitz tale

British-Jewish journalist Thomas Harding released his double-biography of his great-uncle Hanns Alexander and former Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess in late August 2013. It's not the first double-biography in which Hoess has featured, Ladislaus Kluz's Kolbe and the Kommandant is now thirty years old, but it's very unlikely that received the media-hype that Harding's book has been afforded.

In the book Harding writes of his visit to the Auschwitz I camp in November 2012 accompanied by Hoess' daughter-in-law Irene Alba and her son—Hoess' grandson—Rainer Hoess. Harding describes what happened when they were viewing the the Polish built ammunition depot cum German crematorium and morgue cum air raid shelter (a building alleged to have housed a homicidal gas chamber) in Auschwitz I:
"Rainer walks over to a metal door with a small hole in it. This is the back door to the old crematorium. This is where his grandfather looked through the peephole and watched the prisoners being gassed to prove to his staff that he could cope with the mass murders taking place under his watch." (p.285)
There's more than one problem with this claim though. Harding is obviously describing the door on the south-east side of the building, one of only two doors to the building, and the only metal one containing a peep-hole. I was at Auschwitz ten months prior to their visit, and as shown in my photograph below it was not possible for me to approach this door due to a museum sign blocking the path which read 'No Entrance.'

Of course it's possible that this sign held by metal chains was not there when they visited, and if this was the only issue I had with Harding's tale I would not even be bothering to write about it. It's Harding's claim that Rudolf Hoess watched Jews being gassed through the peep-hole in this door that is the real issue.

Harding's clearly referring to something written in Hoess' "memoirs":
“I had to look through the peephole of the gas chambers and watch the process of death itself, because the doctors wanted me to see it. I had to do all this because I was the one to whom everyone looked, because I had to show them all that I did not merely issue the orders and make the regulations but was also prepared myself to be present at whatever task I had assigned to my subordinates."
In this part of the "memoirs" "Hoess" is just talking generalities, there is no way to pin point which of the seven gas chambers that were supposedly used in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) he's talking about, nor how many times he looked through a gas chamber door peep-hole. But we can be 100% sure that he never once looked through the peep-hole in the door Harding claims he did, and this has nothing to do with denying that this building was used as a homicidal gas chamber either, even if I accept for argument sake that 10,000 people were gassed in this building, that doesn't change the fact that according to the Auschwitz museum, and two court recognised Auschwitz experts, this door did not exist when gassing occurred in this building. It was not until the building was converted into an air raid shelter in 1944 that this door was created.

In Van Pelt's & Dwork's 1996 Auschwitz 1270 to the Present, they reproduce a 1942 plan of the crematorium and morgue (which they alleged was converted into a gas chamber in September 1941) on which Harding's door is absent. In Pressac's 1989 Auschwitz: Technique & Operation of the Gas Chambers he reproduces several German plans of the building, from September 1941; October 1944December 1944, and only on the plans from 1944 does this door appear, as these plans were drawn after the September 1944 decision to convert the building into an air raid shelter for the patients and staff of the adjacent SS hospital. 

Pressac writes of the passage way in the above photograph:
"The southeast access to the second air lock of the air raid shelter for the SS hospital ... This entrance led directly to the former gas chamber of Krematorium I. Though it had nothing to do with the gas chamber it was preserved during the restoration, whereas it should have been filled in to respect historical facts." 
Harding has no excuses for his nonsense story either, even if he hasn't read the above mentioned books. Just yards away from the door in question is the museum sign below (red annotations are mine) which states that that this door was not present in 1942:


  1. Don't let accuracy get in the way of churning out more holo-porn which will no doubt be bulk bought by public libraries and end up as a school text book.

  2. "The author was accompanied by Hoess´ daughter in law and grandson, this must be true", might someone think who is not familiar with the stuff examined at this blog. Good work.


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