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October 29, 2013

Holocaust survivor Phil Gans is out selling “Erase the hate” bracelets

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 1:23 pm

PhilGans

I previously blogged here about Philip L. Gans, who allegedly survived the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz. In the photo above, Philip Gans is standing in front of a photo of the Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the Auschwitz main camp, although he claims that he was in the Auschwitz III camp. Did Monowitz have the Arbeit sign?  I blogged about that here.

Philip is now out on the lecture circuit, selling bracelets that say “Erase the hate.”  You can read about it in this news article.  You can read a biography of Phil Gans here.

This quote is from the news article, published today, in The Pilot Tribune:

[Gans and his relatives] were taken to a detention camp in Westerbork [Holland] which, Gans explained, was not bad at all.

A month later 1,001 people from the detention camp were crammed into a train car, used to transport cattle. No one knew where they were going.

Several days later, they arrived at Auschwitz, a slave labor camp. [Does he mean Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz? Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II were "death camps".]

Off the train, the men and women were separated. From there they were separated into other lines – one for the able-bodied who the Nazis felt could be workers and another line, for those they did not feel could work, were led to the showers where they were gassed to death then cremated.

I never got to say good-bye to my mom…” Gans said, [whose mother] was put in the shower line.

Because of his age, 15, he was put into the working line.
[...]
Gans remained at Auschwitz from Aug. 27, 1943 to Jan. 18, 1945 and was then transferred to Flossenberg where he served from January 1945 until April 16, 1945.
[...]
It was April 23, 1945 that the American army stepped in and helped liberate the [Flossenbürg] prisoners. He will never forget that day or those [American] soldiers who were so kind to him.
[...]
“I’m committed to getting the message out there.” He has coined the phrase, “Erase the Hate,” and put them on silicone bracelets which he sells.

When I wrote my first blog post about Phil Gans, I was skeptical of his story because he claims that he was sent directly to the Auschwitz III camp (Monowitz) which was NOT on a train line.

Before the train tracks were extended inside the Auschwitz II camp, prisoners who were sent to Auschwitz arrived at the Judenrampe and were then taken to the Auschwitz II camp, aka Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they underwent a selection.  Those who were selected to work were then sent to Monowitz, after first being held in the quarantine barracks at Birkenau for a few weeks.

Phil was fortunate that he arrived at Auschwitz at the exact age of 15 because that was the cut off point for prisoners to be chosen to work.  Anne Frank, who was also sent from Westerbork to Auschwitz, was 15 when she arrived, so she was not sent to the gas chamber.

What about his tattoo number, which begins with the number one, and has no letter A or B in front of it?  That part is correct, according to the USHMM website.

This quote about the Flossenbürg camp is from Wikipedia:

On 20 April 1945, they began the forced evacuation of 22,000 inmates, including 1,700 Jews, leaving behind only those too sick to walk. On the death march to the Dachau concentration camp, SS guards shot any inmate too sick to keep up.[4] Before they reached Dachau, more than 7,000 inmates had been shot or had collapsed and died.

By the time the U.S. Army freed the camp on April 23, 1945, more than 30,000 inmates had died at Flossenbürg. Troops from the 2nd Cavalry Group, Mechanized,[5] the 90th Infantry Division and the 97th Infantry Division[6][7] found about 1,600 ill and weak prisoners, mostly in the camp’s hospital barracks.

Phil was again fortunate that he was too sick to join the march out of Flossenbürg, and he was liberated by American troops. Those who could march were taken to the Dachau camp.

The Holocaust story, told by Phil Gans, is just TOO CONVENIENT.  For example, this quote from the news article:

In August of 1942 Gans’ father was informed he was to report to Germany but rather than going, he put the family into hiding. The family moved around and were separated for several months.

It was during the night in July 1943 that Gans was awakened by footsteps in the gravel outside their home. They had been discovered by the Nazis who ordered them up and to get dressed.

It was necessary for the Gans family to go into hiding (just like Anne Frank’s family) so that Phil would be exactly 15 years old, the age of survival at Auschwitz.  Otherwise, he would have had to lie about his age during the selections, which were always done by Dr. Josef Mengele, according to the survivors.

There is a revisionist website with the title “Inconvenient History,” which you can read here. This website could be called “Real History,” except that David Irving already has that title.

There should be a Holocaust website called “Convenient History” where survivors, like Phil Gans, could tell their convenient stories.

April 5, 2013

Bobrek sub-camp of Auschwitz III camp, where prisoners worked as slave laborers

Filed under: Buchenwald, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:31 am

This morning, I read an article about Gilbert Michlin, a French Jewish prisoner, who survived the Holocaust because he was selected to be a slave laborer at the Bobrek sub-camp of Monowitz (Auschwitz III).

Main gate into the Bobrek sub-camp of Monowitz

Main gate into the Bobrek sub-camp of Monowitz

Prisoners working in the Bobrek factory

Prisoners working in the Bobrek factory

The photo above was taken in 1944 at the Bobrek sub-camp of Monowitz. It shows prisoners working in an airplane factory called Siemens Schuckert Werke. In the background, the man wearing a civilian suit is Herr Jungdorf, a German engineer for the Siemens company.

This quote is from the article about Gilbert Michlin, which you can read in full here:

In his memoir, Gilbert [Michlin] recalled French complicity in the deportation of Jews. He lovingly portrayed his father’s yearning to immigrate to America and his rejection at Ellis Island in 1923 [America had a quota on Jewish immigrants starting in 1921]; Gilbert’s own childhood dream to be an actor; and the shock of Nazi occupation and his arrest with his mother by French police at 2 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1944, two days before his 18th birthday.

A week later, Gilbert saw his mother for the last time as she was driven away from the Auschwitz platform in a truck.

It was at the [Auschwitz] death camp that a Siemens representative recruited Gilbert and about 100 others to a work unit. His father’s insistence that Gilbert learn a mechanical trade saved his life. Gilbert was selected for armaments production. Siemens kept its Bobrek factory prisoners together, even after the SS evacuated them in the death march from Auschwitz in January 1945. They were transferred together from Buchenwald to Berlin. A few months later, the war was over.

Note that, at the Auschwitz “death camp,” 18-year-old Gilbert Michlin was recruited by a Siemens representative for a work unit in the Bobrek sub-camp of Monowitz. This is the first time that I have ever heard of a Siemens rep recruiting workers at Auschwitz.  I thought that everyone who was transported to Auschwitz was at the mercy of  Dr. Josef Mengele who was always at the ramp when the trains arrived.  Was there a Siemen’s representative standing there as well, doing some recruiting for the Siemens company?

Prisoners arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau had to undergo selection

Prisoners arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau had to undergo selection, for work or the gas chamber

Monowitz was originally a sub-camp of the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp, and it was known as Bunalager (Buna Camp) until November 1943 when it became the Auschwitz III camp with its own administrative headquarters. Auschwitz III consisted of 28 sub-camps which were built between 1942 and 1944. This area of Upper Silesia was known as the “Black Triangle” because of its coal deposits. The Buna plant attracted the attention of the Allies, and there were several bombing raids on the factories.

Auschwitz III was established at the site of the chemical factories of IG Farbenindustrie near the small village of Monowitz, which was located four kilometers from the town of Auschwitz. The IG Farben company had independently selected this location around the same time that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler decided, in April 1940, to locate a new concentration camp in the town of Auschwitz. The most important factory at Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz, was the Buna Werke, which was owned by the IG Farben company.

Of the three Nazi concentration camps located near the town of Auschwitz, the Auschwitz III camp was the most important to the Nazis because of its factories which were essential to the German war effort. The Monowitz industrial complex was built by Auschwitz inmates, beginning in April 1941. Initially, the workers walked from the Auschwitz main camp to the building site, a distance of seven kilometers.

The decision to build chemical factories at Auschwitz transformed the village of Monowitz. On February 2, 1941, Herman Göring ordered the Jews in the village to be relocated to a ghetto, and German civilians moved into their former homes.

When the factories at Monowitz were opened, the town of Auschwitz quickly went from a primitive town of 12,000 inhabitants to a modern German town of 40,000 people which included an influx of German engineers and their families. Both the main Auschwitz camp and the Birkenau camp were expanded in order to provide workers for the factories. Before Monowitz became a separate camp with barracks buildings, the prisoners had to walk from the other camps to the factories.

According to Wikipedia, the Bobrek sub-camp of Monowitz was built by Siemens predecessor Siemens-Schuckert near the Polish village of Bobrek. The prisoners who worked there were producing electrical parts for German aircraft and U-boats.  On January 18, 1945, the prisoners from the Bobrek sub-camp were evacuated on a “death march” to the concentration camp in Gleiwitz, Poland, where they were put on a train to Buchenwald, from where they were transferred to a factory in a suburb of Berlin.  The Commandant of the Bobrek camp was SS-Scharführer Hermann Buch.

Heinrich Himmler on a visit to the Monowitz camp, with German engineers

Heinrich Himmler and Max Faust inspect the Monowitz camp

The photo above shows Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, a five-star general, (2nd from the left) who was the head of the SS and the man who was responsible for all the Nazi concentration camps. The man on the far left is Max Faust. This photo was taken when Himmler came to inspect the Monowitz factories on July 17th and 18th, 1942. Himmler is the man wearing a uniform. The two men on the right are German engineers.

The German engineers lived in the town of Auschwitz, after it was cleaned up to meet German standards of living. Slave labor was used to make improvements to the town, after Himmler volunteered the services of the concentration camp inmates.

The Jews who were sent to Auschwitz, and then assigned to work at Monowitz, had a much better chance of survival because the factory workers were considered too valuable to send to the gas chambers, at least while they were still able to work.
The figures below are from the Nazi records which were turned over to the Red Cross by the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism. They were published in a book written by Danuta Czech.

Male prisoners in Auschwitz III Monowitz (Buna-Werke) 10,223
Golleschau 1,008
Jawischowitz (Jawiszowice) 1,988
Eintrachthutte (Swietochlowice) 1,297
Neu-Dachs (Jaworzno) 3,664
Blechhammer (Blachownia) 3,958
Furstengrube (Wesola) 1,283
Gute Hoffnung (Janinagrube, Libiaz) 853
Guntergrube (Ledziny) 586
Brunn (Brno) 36
Gleiwitz I 1,336
Gleiwitz II 740
Gleiwitz III 609
Gleiwitz IV 444
Laurahutte (Siemianowice) 937
Sosnowitz 863
Bobrek 213
Trzebinia 641
Althammer (Stara Kuznia) 486
Tschechowitz-Dzieditz 561
Charlottengrube (Rydultowy) 833
Hindenburg (Zabrze) 70
Bismarckhutte (Hajduki) 192
Hubertushutte (Lagiewniki) 202
Subtotal 33,023

Female prisoners in Auschwitz III

Subtotal 2,095

Total for Auschwitz III: 35,118

Note that there were 213 survivors of the Bobrek sub-camp.

May 14, 2012

Richard Baer is the latest Auschwitz SS man to be demonized —- in a fictional play “The Beekeeper”

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:42 pm

Everyone knows the names Dr. Josef Mengele and Rudolf Hoess, the evil monsters of Auschwitz.  Their names are household words.  Not so well known is the name Richard Baer.

Richard Baer, Dr. Josef Mengele, Rudolf Hoess

Now Richard Baer is the subject of a play about the Holocaust called The Beekeeper.  The play is about Richard Baer, the Commandant of Monowitz (Auschwitz III) and a prisoner named Stressler who is a beekeeper.  This is a play based on a true story, meaning that the play is NOT a true story.  Richard Baer never worked at Monowitz. The play is about one of those events that didn’t happen, but are true, as Elie Wiesel famously said.

This quote is from an article about the play, which you can read in full here:

Whilst the horrific events of the mid-20th century’s Holocaust are incredibly well-documented, I am sure I am not alone in being saddened and disgusted whenever I am served a reminder of the sheer humiliation and cruelty one set of human beings became capable of bestowing on another. This is, of course, what The Beekeeper is all about and the play does not fail to hit hard; it’s an intense and thought-provoking 90 minutes.

However, the slant is somewhat different to what we are accustomed to seeing and reading. In the writer’s own words there are no “bodies being fed into furnaces and whips cracking”. Instead, the spotlight is firmly on a single corner of the camp where the prisoner Stressler resides in isolation. Believed to be a conspirator by the other prisoners, he tenderly nurtures a hive of bees which serves not only as a distraction from his miserable, pain-filled existence but as a supply of honey for Nazi officers, in particular one Richard Baer.

On May 5, 1944, Richard Baer became the last Commandant of the Auschwitz main camp. He was only in charge of the Auschwitz main camp, not the whole Auschwitz complex. Richard Baer never worked at the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz, in any capacity. In January 1945, Baer replaced Otto Förschner as the Commandant of Mittelbau-Dora, the concentration camp in Germany where the V-2 rockets were built.

After the war, Richard Baer went into hiding under an assumed name while he worked as a lumberjack in a remote area in Germany. He was finally tracked down and arrested in 1960, soon after Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina. Baer was asked to give a deposition which was entered into the trial of Eichmann in Israel. Baer was awaiting his own trial in the Auschwitz case in Frankfurt when he mysteriously died in prison just before the trial began in June 1963. Under interrogation, Baer had stubbornly refused to admit to the gassing of prisoners at Auschwitz.

This quote is from Wikipedia:

Richard Baer (September 9, 1911 – June 17, 1963) was a German Nazi official with the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (major) and commander of the Auschwitz I concentration camp from May 1944 to February 1945. He was a member of N.S.D.A.P. (no. 454991) and the SS (no. 44225).

From November 1943 until the end of 1944 Fritz Hartjenstein and Josef Kramer were responsible for the extermination camp Auschwitz II, Birkenau, so that Baer was only Commandant of this part of the camp from the end of 1944 until January 1945. Near the end of the war Richard Baer, having replaced Otto Förschner as commandant of the Dora-Mittelbau camp in Thuringia Nordhausen, was responsible for the execution of Russian prisoners at mass gallows. His final rank was SS-Sturmbannführer (Major).

At the end of the war, Baer fled and lived near Hamburg as Karl Egon Neumann, a forestry worker. In the course of investigation in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials a warrant for his arrest was issued in October 1960 and his photograph was printed in newspapers. He was recognized by a co-worker and arrested in December 1960 after Adolf Eichmann’s arrest. On the advice of his lawyer he refused to testify and died of a heart attack in pre-trial detention in 1963.

What would cause a man to die of a heart attack at the age of 52?  Was the heart attack caused by torture during his interrogation? Or by poison?  You can read all about Richard Baer and his untimely death on the website of Carlos Whitlock Porter here.

January 24, 2012

the alleged “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 11:04 am

The question of the alleged Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the Monowitz (Auschwitz III) camp came up in a recent comment on my blog.  As proof that this sign taunted the prisoners in the Monowitz camp, as well as in other Nazi camps, we have the eye-witness account written by Primo Levi, who was a prisoner at Monowitz.  I previously blogged about Primo Levi here, but I didn’t include the information that Levi mentioned the sign on page 22 of the book Survival in Auschwitz, the Nazi Assault on Humanity.

On page 19, Levi wrote this about his arrival at Auschwitz on a transport train:  “A vast platform appeared before us, lit up by reflectors.”  This is a reference to the Judenrampe, which was a large train platform, near the Birkenau camp, which was used from 1942 to May 1944. The Judenrampe was torn down when the train tracks were extended inside the Birkenau death camp, so that the prisoners could be brought to a spot within a few feet of the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III.  (God forbid that the Jews should have to walk to the gas chambers.)

Levi’s description of his arrival at Monowitz begins on page 22:

The journey [to Monowitz from the Judenrampe] did not last more than twenty minutes.  Then the lorry [truck] stopped and we saw a large door, and above it a sign, brightly illuminated (its memory still strikes me in my dreams): Arbeit Macht Frei, work gives freedom.

We climb down, they make us enter an enormous empty room that is poorly heated.

So the sign was on a DOOR, not a gate.  It was the door to an enormous empty ROOM, not the door into a camp.  Note that he not only saw the sign on the door, he also saw it in his dreams.

Denis Avey also mentioned an Arbeit Macht Frei sign at Monowitz in his book The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz. On page 140, Avey describes the scene when he entered the Monowitz prison camp:

It was still light when we passed through the gate and I saw the sign bearing the cruel promise ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ — work sets you free.

I didn’t know that the irony of those words would scream across the decades. This was Auschwitz III–Monowitz.

Note that the sign that Denis Avey saw was on a GATE, not a door.

Rob Broomby co-wrote Denis Avey’s book.  On page 235, we learn that Rob questioned whether this sign was actually on the Monowitz gate.

This quote, written by Denis Avey, is from page 235 of the American edition of his book:

As Rob’s research continued it threw up some interesting questions about the nature of memory. He kept asking me if I was certain I had seen that Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the gates to Auschwitz III–Monowitz.  I was, but he said some experts had questioned it and nothing survives at the site today to testify one way or the other. The sign everyone knows these days is at the gates of the main camp, Auschwitz I. After more than sixty years it is that one which is emblazoned on the collective memory although many camps had them. Rob said the most influential account of life in the camp — that of survivor and writer Primo Levi — mentioned the sign at Auschwitz III more than once but the head of Research at Auschwitz wasn’t convinced.

So was there an Arbeit macht Frei sign at Monowitz or not?  I would say NOT.  Primo Levi saw the sign in his dreams, and Denis Avey read about it in Primo Levi’s book.  The Arbeit Macht Frei sign was used on the gates of the Nazi camps that were classified as Class I camps. Auschwitz I was a Class I camp and it had the sign.  Monowitz was a labor camp which probably did not have the sign.  I explained all this on a previous post which you can read here.

July 3, 2011

Book Report: The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz

I have just finished reading Denis Avey’s book The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz and I now believe that he might have actually stayed for two nights in the Jewish barracks at the prison camp called Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz.  However, the title of his book should be “The Man Who Allegedly Slept Two Nights in Monowitz.”  He didn’t break into Auschwitz, but he could have sneaked into the Jewish barracks at the Auschwitz III prison camp which was just outside the southern border of the huge Monowitz factory site.

Monowitz factories where Denis Avey worked

The Buna Werke near the village of Monowitz was a huge factory complex for making synthetic rubber; it was built in May 1942, six kilometers from the main Auschwitz camp, by the German company called IG Farbenindustrie (IG Farben).

At first, the Monowitz prison camp was one of the 40 sub-camps of the main Auschwitz camp, but in November 1943, the Monowitz sub-camp became Auschwitz III with its own sub-camps.

Today, a solid concrete fence surrounds the former Buna Werke, which is off limits to tourists. The old fence is the first thing that you see, as you are driving into the town of Auschwitz from the Krakow airport. The fence stretches for miles, and behind it, are factories, built by the Germans, that are still being used today.

Caution: Spoilers ahead.  Stop reading now if you plan to purchase this book and read it yourself.

The section of the book about Avey’s time in a POW camp at Monowitz doesn’t begin until Chapter 9.  Before that, Avey tells about his war experience and how he was captured.  This part of the book establishes what kind of man he was, and gives you an idea of why he “broke into Auschwitz.”  Avey was very brave, but also reckless and foolhardy.

There are several photos in the book which show Avey as a young man.  He was 25 years old, and very handsome, when he “broke into Auschwitz.” He still looks remarkably good for a man of 92.

His book will probably be made into a movie and the actor who plays the part should be someone who looks like Van Johnson, a famous actor in the 1940s.  I can’t think of any current actor who has the looks and charisma of Van Johnson, so the part will probably go to an unknown actor.  But I digress.

Denis Avey was a British POW in the E715 camp, which was located across the road that runs along the southern border of the huge Monowitz factory site.  The distance from the E715 camp to the Jewish barracks at Monowitz is measured in yards, not miles.

Two maps are included in Avey’s book: one map shows that the POW camp was about 500 yards from the Monowitz barracks for the Jewish workers.

The Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau, was the “death camp” where four gas chambers were located. Birkenau is 7 miles east of the former Monowitz prison camp.  Auschwitz I, the main camp, is about 5 miles east of  the Monowitz factories.

This quote is from page 168 of the American edition of Avey’s book:

On 18 January 1945 the Jews were marched out of Auschwitz III-Monowitz for the last time.  The camp, just a few hundred yards along the track from E715, was abandoned except for some of the sick who were left behind.

One of the maps in the book shows that the barracks for the sick prisoners made up about 20% of the Jewish barracks.  Yet throughout the book, Avey mentions that there was a daily selection at Monowitz, and the prisoners, who were too sick to continue working, were immediately sent to the gas chamber.  Why did they need a large section of barracks for the sick if the sick prisoners were immediately gassed?

On page 140, Avey describes the scene when he entered the Monowitz prison camp:

It was still light when we passed through the gate and I saw the sign bearing the cruel promise “Arbeit Macht Frei” — work sets you free.

I didn’t know that the irony of those words would scream across the decades. This was Auschwitz III–Monowitz.

Rob Broomby co-wrote the book with Avey.  On page 235, we learn that Broomby questioned whether the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign was actually on the Monowitz gate.

This quote is from page 235 of the American edition:

As Rob’s research continued it threw up some interesting questions about the nature of memory. He kept asking me if I was certain I had seen that Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the gates to Auschwitz III Monowitz.  I was, but he said some experts had questioned it and nothing survives at the site today to testify one way or the other. The sign everyone knows these days is at the gates of the main camp, Auschwitz I. After more than sixty years it is that one which is emblazoned on the collective memory although many camps had them. Rob said the most influential account of life in the camp — that of survivor and writer Primo Levi — mentioned the sign at Auschwitz III more than once but the head of Research at Auschwitz wasn’t convinced.

From Avey’s book, I learned that the Jewish prisoners wore “crude wooden clogs” when they worked at the Monowitz factories.  I think most people would picture “clogs” as looking like the wooden shoes that are made in Holland.  Years ago, I visited a Museum in the town of Dachau which displayed shoes worn by the Dachau prisoners; they were regular style shoes made with cloth uppers and wooden soles. When I visited the Museum at Bergen-Belsen in 2001, I saw a pair of shoes with leather uppers and wooden soles, which had allegedly been worn by a Jewish prisoner.  The prisoners at Bergen-Belsen worked to salvage usable leather from a huge pile of worn-out shoes in the camp; the leather was then nailed to a wooden sole to make new shoes for the prisoners.

Shoes with wooden soles worn by Jewish prisoners

This small detail is important because Avey  did not mention that Ernst Lobethal, the man whose life he had saved, had worn wooden clogs.  On page 125, Avey describes Lobethal’s clothing:

This lad was around nineteen and somehow different. I noticed right away that his zebra striped uniform was thicker than most, not quite so worn out, maybe even cleaner than the others.

Avey was cautious at first because Lobethal seemed to be “one of the favored few.” Lobethal didn’t do heavy manual labor in the camp; he had some sort of privileged position.  Lobethal wore better clothes than the others, according to Avey, but Avey did not write anything about Lobethal’s shoes.

Lobethal’s life was saved because he used the cigarettes, that Avey obtained from Lobethal’s sister, to have his shoes resoled before going on the 38-mile march out of the camp to Gleiwitz, a camp in the Greater German Reich, on January 18, 1945.  This implies that Lobethal did not wear crude wooden clogs.

Avey wrote that there was a shoe repair place at Monowitz.  But why was this needed if almost all of the prisoners wore wooden clogs?  Were the “clogs” really shoes with leather or cloth uppers and wooden soles?

In any case, Denis Avey was rejected by Yad Vashem for the honor of being a Righteous Gentile; he did not get a tree planted in his honor in Israel because his claim of saving a Jew was not allowed. After all, Lobethal might have made it for 38 miles on his old soles, although in his Shoah testimony, Lobethal himself credited the new soles with saving his life.

Avey’s book does settle one question that is very controversial: Did the Germans march the Jewish prisoners out of Auschwitz as a means of killing them or did they march them out because they needed workers for their factories in Germany?

On page 170, Avey wrote:

The Germans had marched off their Jewish prisoners, thinking they could wring some more work out of them.

Avey and the other British POWs marched out of their camp on Jan. 21st, three days after the Jewish prisoners started their march.  At the beginning of their march, the POWs were on the same route taken by the Jewish prisoners. Avey mentioned that they were walking for miles on the frozen bodies of the dead Jewish prisoners before the route changed.

Avey wrote on page 173:

We didn’t know what they had planned for us. After all, we had witnessed Auschwitz.

So the Germans weren’t worried about allowing witnesses to live?

What had the British POWs and the Jewish prisoners at Monowitz actually witnessed?  Did they see the gas chambers?  SS judge Georg Konrad Morgen testified at the Nuremberg IMT that there was a gas chamber at Monowitz.  You can read about it here on my web site.

Avey wrote about the Allied bombing of the Monowitz factories.  He wrote about an air raid shelter; the POWs did not want to go inside this shelter because they had heard rumors about the gas chambers, and they were afraid the air raid shelter might be a gas chamber in disguise.

Air raid shelter at Monowitz looked like a gas chamber

On page 167, Avey wrote that the Red Cross packages could not get through due to the Allied bombing.  On the next page, he wrote about a Russian air raid.

POW camp E715 had previously been a camp for Russian POWs.  Avey wrote that there were rumors that the Russians had been gassed to make room for the British POWs.

On page 175, Avey wrote, regarding how he survived the march out of Auschwitz:

I forced the most appalling things down my gullet on that march and each time I convinced myself that it was a Christmas dinner. It’s how I survived.

Yet, when Avey sneaked into the Jewish barracks at Monowitz for the first time, he didn’t eat the evening meal, nor breakfast, according to his book.  He went directly to his bunk and stayed out of sight.  Maybe Avey knew that he would have been caught if he had gone through the chow line.  Primo Levi wrote that the Jewish prisoners had to show their tattoo before they could get their food.  We know that either Rob Broomby or Denis Avey had read Primo Levi’s books so they didn’t make the mistake of claiming in their book that Avey went through the chow line while he was in the Jewish barracks on his first trip.

This quote, about his second trip to the Jewish barracks, is from page 147:

Breakfast was odd-tasting black bread smeared with something I took to be rancid margarine.  We passed between tables picking it up as we went by. There was no going back.  I kept my head down, took it and passed on.  I was hungry but I still couldn’t eat it.

If Avey didn’t eat the bread, how did he determine that it was odd-tasting?  The Jewish prisoners were allowed to pick up bread as they “passed between tables”?  How did the SS guards prevent the starving prisoners from taking more than their share?

On page 146, Avey wrote that there wasn’t much to see in the Monowitz barracks.  Regarding why he sneaked into the Jewish barracks, he wrote:

I had wanted to know more about the selections, the gas chambers, but now I understood that I was in the wrong place for that.  The camps were separate but inextricably linked.  These people were being driven on relentlessly; falter or weaken and they were sent on to the gas chambers.  There were many parts, but it had one machine.

On page 160, Avey wrote that he was disappointed by his first trip to the Jewish barracks at Monowitz.

He wrote:

The selections took place there but the mechanized slaughter was happening elsewhere.

I have been watching the Casey Anthony trial on TV and I keep hearing the defense lawyers say: “Objection, assuming facts not in evidence.”  This would be a good sub-title for Avey’s book:  “The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz, Assuming Facts not in Evidence.”  He didn’t find out anything about the gas chambers; he just assumed that they existed and that the prisoners who disappeared were killed by “mechanized slaughter.”  The actual sub-title of the book is A True Story of World War II.

Avey decided to make a second trip to the Jewish barracks at Monowitz since he had not learned much on his first trip. Regarding the second trip, he wrote:

Once inside I took to the bunk and stayed there.  I knew I wasn’t going to be eating their food.

So that’s why he didn’t get caught.  He didn’t risk being asked to show his tattoo before being served any food.

I did learn one thing about the Jewish barracks that I didn’t know before.  Three prisoners slept in one bed, but they slept across the bed, not with their heads at the head of the bed and their feet at the foot.  Avey was over six feet tall, so his legs were hanging over, but the Jewish prisoners were much shorter and sleeping cross-wise gave them more room in the bed.

I also learned that the British POWs were given white bread.  The Germans were following the Geneva Convention to the letter.  POWs were supposed to be given their native diet which meant white bread for the British instead of the nutritious black bread that the Jewish prisoners ate.  The Jews were given “cabbage soup” according to Denis Avey.  If you’ve ever cooked cabbage, you know that it cooks down to nothing, so a bowl of  cooked cabbage provides very concentrated nutrition.  Cabbage is a source of Vitamin C.  Himmler, who was a health nut, would have known that Vitamin C is essential and he would have fed the prisoners cabbage for that reason.

Avey follows the obligatory formula for a Holocaust-related book: he mentions the obligatory story of the killing of a baby by an SS man.  He wrote that he saw an SS man punch a baby in the face with all his might.  The typical baby-killing story involves an SS man smashing a baby against a train or truck or wall.  Baby-atrocity stories are part of an old tradition that was started by the British in World War I when they told the lie about German soldiers “cutting off the hands of the babies in Belgium.”

The formula for a Holocaust-related book also includes some mention of at least one of the famous evil Nazis.  Avey mentions seeing Irma Grese who was a famous guard at Birkenau, but somehow she turned up at Monowitz and was included in his book.

The cover of the American edition of Avey’s book is plain black with gold letters on the spine.  However, the paper book jacket has a scary-looking photo of the gate house at the entrance into the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau.  The cover photo is inappropriate because Denis Avey was in a POW camp that was seven miles from Birkenau.  Avey’s story has nothing whatsoever to do with the Birkenau death camp.  The photo looks like a recent photo that has been converted from a color photo into black and white and darkened to make it look ominous. I previously blogged about photos of the Birkenau gate house here.

The background of the book jacket is black with the title in red and gold letters. Is this supposed to suggest the red-gold-and-black German flag that the German people are now ashamed to fly?

I would suggest that an appropriate cover picture would be a sepia tone photo of Denis as a young man, or several old photos, including one of the soccer team in the POW camp.  The part about him sneaking into the Jewish barracks at Monowitz is a small part of the book.  His exploits during World War II should be high-lighted instead.

Red arrow points to Avey on the soccer team in POW camp

July 2, 2011

Charles Coward, the first British POW who broke into Auschwitz

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:58 am

The British started broadcasting on the BBC about the gassing of prisoners by the Nazis in June 1942.  So it is not surprising that two British POWs (Charles Coward and Dennis Avey) sneaked into Auschwitz to find out about the infamous gas chamber and to bear witness to the crimes committed by the Germans.  Charles Coward wrote a book entitled The Password is Courage in 1954; on the back cover the sub-title was The Man who Broke into Auschwitz. This is the exact same title as a book written by Dennis Avey which was published in the UK last year and just recently in America.

Both Charles Coward and Dennis Avey were prisoners in the E715 POW camp that was only a short distance from the barracks at the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz, where Jewish prisoners lived while they were working in the IG Farben factories at Monowitz.

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler at Monowitz, July 1942

The photograph above shows Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, a five-star general, who was the head of the SS and the man who was responsible for all the Nazi concentration camps; he is on a visit to inspect the Monowitz factories on July 17th and 18th, 1942. Himmler is the man wearing a uniform. The two men on the right are German engineers.

The Brtish POW soccer team at E715 camp

The British soldiers in the POW camp were treated well because the British had signed the Geneva Convention of 1929 and their POWs were entitled to the protection of the Convention.  The Jewish prisoners were treated far worse, according to Dennis Avey’s account.

Charles Coward was captured in May 1940; he was sent to Monowitz in December 1943. Coward testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal regarding the location of the gas chamber where Jewish prisoners were gassed.

The following excerpts are from Charles Coward’s Nuremberg affidavit:

Affidavit Copy of Document NI-11696, Prosecution Exhibit 1462

COWARD: I made it a point to get one of the guards to take me to town under the pretense of buying new razor blades and stuff for our boys. For a few cigarettes he pointed out to me the various places where they had the gas chambers and the places where they took them down to be cremated. Everyone to whom I spoke gave the same story – the people in the city of Auschwitz, the SS men, concentration camp inmates, foreign workers – everyone said that thousands of people were being gassed and cremated at Auschwitz, and that the inmates who worked with us and who were unable to continue working because of their physical condition and were suddenly missing, had been sent to the gas chambers. The inmates who were selected to be gassed went through the procedure of preparing for a bath, they stripped their clothes off, and walked into the bathing room. Instead of showers, there was gas. All the camp knew it. All the civilian population knew it. I mixed with the civilian population at Auschwitz. I was at Auschwitz nearly every day…Nobody could live in Auschwitz and work in the plant, or even come down to the plant without knowing what was common knowledge to everybody.

Even while still at Auschwitz we got radio broadcasts from the outside speaking about the gassings and burnings at Auschwitz. I recall one of these broadcasts was by Anthony Eden himself. Also, there were pamphlets dropped in Auschwitz and the surrounding territory, one of which I personally read, which related what was going on in the camp at Auschwitz. These leaflets were scattered all over the countryside and must have been dropped from planes. They were in Polish and German. Under those circumstances, nobody could be at or near Auschwitz without knowing what was going on.

[...]

COWARD: The figures indicated 11 and 12 were known to us as the concentration camps, and when I mentioned about the gas chambers or crematoriums, I mean to infer that I had visited what was shown to me to be a gas chamber some distance from the railway station at Auschwitz.

The railway station at the town of Auschwitz had a platform called the “Judenrampe,”  where the Jews exited from the transport trains and were then marched to the Birkenau camp; the old people and children were taken in trucks to the gas chambers in “the little white house” and “the little red house.”

Former location of the Judenrampe

The photo above, taken in October 2005, shows a group of tourists reading a sign board that tells about the Judenrampe, which was formerly in this location.

The tracks where the transport trains arrived near Birkenau

Charles Coward’s testimony at the Nuremberg IMT is quoted below:

DR. DRISCHEL (counsel for Defendant Ambros): Witness, it is remarkable that you state in your affidavit that for a few cigarettes you saw the gas chambers in Auschwitz and the crematoria. Can you tell its where that was in the city of Auschwitz?

COWARD: To my best belief the gas chamber and crematorium, as it was known, was about 50 yards from a railway station at the far end of, I think the name was Monowitz.

DR. DRISCHEL: Did I understand you to say that you saw the gas chambers in Monowitz?

COWARD: No, not actually in Monowitz, no. Where the station was at Auschwitz, you see – I very likely misunderstood your question. At Auschwitz there was a railway station, you see, and about 50 to 100 yards from Auschwitz there was a siding where they used to bring the civilians, you see; and about 20 yards on the other side of this siding was where this particular guard took me and showed me the place. -

DR. DRISCHEL: Witness, could you please indicate to what is on the map that is behind you? I don’t understand where these gas chambers are supposed to have been. If you will be kind enough to turn around you will see a map of Auschwitz.

COWARD: The city of Auschwitz, there [indicating] – Whereabouts is the station, farther over? You see, the station is not marked on the map, is it?

DR. DRISCHEL: Yes, I understand. I can define by question by saying that you, Mr. Witness, are of the opinion that these gas chambers and crematoria were located in the vicinity of the station of the city of Auschwitz. That is the way you described it previously. Did I understand you correctly?

COWARD: That is correct.

DR. DRISCHEL: Very well. Then I understood you correctly that you were never in the main camp of Auschwitz, which is on the lower left-hand side of the map, because you said that you were in the camp which is a few hundred yards next to camp VI.

COWARD: That is correct.

DR. DRISCHEL: Then, Mr. Witness, is your description in the affidavit; at least not very misleading?

COWARD: I do not think so. The figures indicated 11 and 12 were known to us as the concentration camps, and when I mentioned about the gas chambers or crematoriums, I mean to infer that I had visited what was shown to me to be a gas chamber some distance from the railway station at Auschwitz.

From this testimony, we learn that the Jewish barracks at Monowitz were very close to the barracks of the E715 POW camp, so it would not have been difficult for a POW to sneak into the Jewish barracks.

We also learn, from the testimony of Charles Coward, that the gas chamber at Auschwitz was near the railroad station, that is, near the Judenrampe.

The photo below, which I took in 2005, shows the buildings which are “about 20 yards on the other side of this (railroad) siding” as described by Charles Coward.

Abandoned buildings near the Judenrampe location

The Monowitz labor camp was kept open until just a week before soldiers in the army of the Soviet Union arrived to liberate the camp on January 27, 1945. The last roll call of the three Auschwitz camps showed a total of 67,012 prisoners. Out of this total, more than half were the workers in the Buna plant at Monowitz and its many sub-camps.

The Nazi records from Auschwitz were turned over to the Red Cross International Tracing Service by the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism. They were published in a book written by Danuta Czech.  The records showed that the number of prisoners in Auschwitz III Monowitz (Buna-Werke) was 10,223, with many more prisoners in the numerous sub-camps.  Although the Nazis were desperate for workers in their munitions factories, Hungarian Jews who were capable of working were gassed upon arrival at Auschwitz, according to Danuta Czech.

April 27, 2011

Learning about the Holocaust from the Denis Avey story

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 10:12 am

In doing a search on Denis Avey, whose Holocaust story has been in the news a lot lately, I came across a video of Denis, and also an article about how Christian youth groups can use the Denis Avey story to learn about the Holocaust, while at the same time, learning about the Christian religion.

Here is a quote from the article, which you can read here:

The Bible tells us that Jesus did exactly what Denis did. He chose to put himself in a dangerous situation and swap places with those who were going to die. But unlike Denis, Jesus actually died on our behalf. [...]  Theologians call this trading of places ‘Substitutionary Atonement’. It’s a complicated way of saying something very simple: Jesus died in our place.

The most interesting part of the article is the suggestion for a game that could be played by youth groups to learn about the Holocaust.  Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t approve of role-playing games about the Holocaust.

Here is a quote from the article which describes a Holocaust game for youth groups:

Game: Sweetie Smuggling
In order to lighten the mood and to keep the group active and interested, you could play the following game.

Promote two people in the group to become ‘guards’ and station them outside of the room. Tell the rest of the group that they are ‘prisoners’. The aim of the game is for the prisoners to smuggle as many sweets (candy) past the guards as possible, and the guards to confiscate as many items as possible. The winning side is the one with the most items at the end.

One by one, the prisoners have to choose if they want to smuggle an item, then walk out of the room past the guards. If they are carrying an item, it should not be visible. This should lead to some very creative hiding items on people. The two guards are only allowed to ‘search’ half the number of people in the group. For example, if you have a group of ten prisoners, the guards can only search five of them. This way, the guards must choose carefully who they want to search.

Obviously it is not a good idea for the young people to physically search each other, so an adult should keep an eye on who has an item, and make sure they are honest when challenged by the guards. If the guards catch someone smuggling, then they confiscate the item. If a prisoner makes it through with an item, then they get to keep it. If a prisoner is accused of smuggling but is not carrying an item, then they can go free.

When the game is finished, get everyone sitting down again and tell the story of Denis Avey.

You can hear Denis Avey describe his Auschwitz experience in a video here.

The video starts with an advertisement, so wait for Denis, who begins by explaining the selection process at the Auschwitz II camp, which was not the camp that Denis allegedly sneaked into.  Then we immediately see a photo of elderly women in the barracks at the Auschwitz II camp, who survived the selections for the gas chamber.

Next, we see an old photo of the Arbeit Macht Frei gate at the entrance into the Auschwitz I camp, which also has nothing to do with his story of trading places with a Jewish prisoner at the Auschwitz III camp.

Finally, we are told in the video that it was Auschwitz III where British prisoners were held.  You can read about the POW camp where Denis Avey was a prisoner here. The POW camp was very close to the barracks where the Jewish workers lived at Auschwitz III.  After Denis explains that the SS guards at Auschwitz III were “shooting from the hip for nothing at all,” we see a photo of child survivors at the Auschwitz II extermination camp.

Towards the end of the Denis Avey video, there is a photo of a man who appears to be near death.  The word “Why?” is printed on this photo, which was taken by the British at the Bergen-Belsen camp.  Why is this man dying?  Because the Nazis did not have a typhus vaccine.  The photo on the video is the one shown below.

Iconic photo of man dying of typhus at Bergen-Belsen

We are told in the video that Denis Avey observed what the Nazis were doing to destroy the Jews and other victim groups.  Avey allegedly learned this at the Auschwitz III camp where the Jews and the British POWs were working in factories. There are no photos of Auschwitz III shown; instead we see lots of recent footage of the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau.  You can read about the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz, here.

This crazy mixed up video about Denis Avey, and the games that are suggested for youth groups, only serve to trivialize the Holocaust.  What’s next?  A Denis Avey video game?  I previously blogged about the Sonderkommando Revolt video game, which was withdrawn in December 2010 before it went on the market and another video game about Bergen-Belsen.

I tried to buy a copy of Denis Avey’s book at my local Barnes and Noble store, but  I was told that the book had not been published yet. It will not be available until July.  So I went online and located a website that has an excerpt at  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8391302/Denis-Avey-The-Man-Who-Broke-Into-Auschwitz.html

Here is a quote from The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz:

There was a sign with that cruel promise: Arbeit macht frei – “Work sets you free”. This was Auschwitz III-Monowitz.

This is a huge mistake by Denis Avey.  This sign was not on the Auschwitz III Monowitz gate, but rather on the Auschwitz main camp gate, as shown in the photo below.

Gate into the Auschwitz main camp

Denis Avey stayed for two nights in the barracks of the Auschwitz III camp.  The barracks are shown in the photo below.

Barracks at Auschwitz III

Avey tried to question the prisoners but all they would tell him is something about the “Frauenhaus,” which was their name for the brothel where the prostitutes stayed.  According to this excerpt from the book, the prisoners at Monowitz did not tell him about the gas chambers.

Avey described the soup, which he said was made from rotten cabbage and potato peels.  He said that he didn’t eat the soup, so how does he know that the cabbage was rotten.

Avey wrote that “Breakfast was odd-tasting black bread smeared with rancid margarine. I couldn’t eat it.”  Again, how does he know that the margarine was rancid if he didn’t eat it.  The prisoners were given whole grain bread instead of fluffy white bread because “black bread” is nutritious.  During World War II, everyone ate margarine because butter was scarce and very expensive.

April 10, 2011

New book: The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz by Denis Avey — is it an insult to the millions who died there?

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:49 am

According to a news article in the Daily Mail which you can read here, there is some doubt about the truth of the story told by Denis Avey in his new book, The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz, which was recently published in ten countries and is already a best seller. Some people are calling his story an insult to the millions who died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Back on March 4, 2010, I wrote about Avey’s story; you can read my blog post here.

This quote from the Daily Mail news article caught my attention:

What is also troubling is that the story of Mr Avey’s swap is almost identical to that told by another former POW at camp E715 called Charles Coward.

In a post-war trial, Coward gave testimony — now widely discredited by Holocaust scholars — in which he claimed to have smuggled himself into Auschwitz by swapping places with a Jewish inmate. This tall tale is included in a book about Coward’s exploits which is called The Password Is Courage and billed on the jacket as The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz — the very same title as Avey’s book.

The chance that two British POWs both independently thought up the life-endangering idea to swap places with an inmate of Auschwitz for the night stretches credibility to breaking point.

I have not read Avey’s book and when I first heard about his story, I was confused because I thought that he was claiming that he had sneaked into Auschwitz I, the main camp, which was about six miles from the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz, where Avery was working when he was a POW.

Now it is clear that his claim is that he sneaked into the barracks at Monowitz, the Auschwitz III camp, where he learned all about the gas chambers from the Jewish prisoners.  What threw me off at first was that Avery described the camp as having the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, which was on the gate at the Auschwitz I camp, but not on the Monowitz gate.

Sgt. Charles Coward had been captured by the Germans in May 1940 but he was not sent to the E715 POW camp near Monowitz until December 1943. While he was a prisoner at E715, Coward smuggled out news about what was happening at Monowitz in letters to the British War Office and informed Swiss representatives of the Red Cross, who paid two visits to E715 in the summer 1944.

Coward testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal regarding his observations about Monowitz.  This quote is from his testimony:

DR. DRISCHEL (counsel for Defendant Ambros): Witness, it is remarkable that you state in your affidavit that for a few cigarettes you saw the gas chambers in Auschwitz and the crematoria. Can you tell its where that was in the city of Auschwitz?

COWARD: To my best belief the gas chamber and crematorium, as it was known, was about 50 yards from a railway station at the far end of, I think the name was Monowitz.

DR. DRISCHEL: Did I understand you to say that you saw the gas chambers in Monowitz?

COWARD: No, not actually in Monowitz, no. Where the station was at Auschwitz, you see – I very likely misunderstood your question. At Auschwitz there was a railway station, you see, and about 50 to 100 yards from Auschwitz there was a siding where they used to bring the civilians, you see; and about 20 yards on the other side of this siding was where this particular guard took me and showed me the place.

The “siding” that Coward mentioned was called the Judenrampe or Jewish ramp in English.  The Judenrampe was an actual ramp, that is, a platform made out of wood, on which the Jews disembarked from the trains.

Railroad tracks at Auschwitz where the Judenrampe was formerly located

The Judenrampe, where the Jews got off the transport trains was “some distance from the railroad station” in the words of Sgt. Coward. The wooden ramp has since been torn down, but the tracks are still there. In May 1944, the railroad tracks were extended into the Birkenau camp when the transports of Jews from Hungary began to arrive, and the Judenrampe was no longer used.

When I visited Auschwitz in 2005, I saw some old abandoned buildings, to the left of the tracks, which might be the location that Sgt. Charles Coward was talking about when he testified about the gas chamber that was “20 yards from the siding.” The photo below, taken in October 2005, shows one of these old buildings.

Abandoned building near the former Judenrampe

Today, there is no claim by the Auschwitz Museum that these buildings once housed a gas chamber. However, an SS judge named Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen testified in defense of the SS at the Nuremberg IMT.  He claimed that there was a gas chamber at Monowitz but the SS was not involved.  You can read about his testimony here on my web site.

Here is another quote from the Daily Mail news article:

The trouble is that increasing numbers of people don’t believe him. They include former Auschwitz prisoners, historians and Jewish organisations — and they all doubt very much that he broke into Auschwitz.

This week Dr Piotr Setkiewicz, the head historian at Auschwitz, said that he did not believe Mr Avey’s story of the swap. He said that his fear was the story could provide ammunition for Holocaust deniers who are keen to exploit implausible memoirs in order to ‘prove’ that the Holocaust did not take place.

Don’t worry about Avey’s book.  It will soon be classified as a novel and made into a movie.  Just because a book is in the Holocaust fiction genre is no reason to throw it out.    The basic premise of the book is that a British POW  traded places with a Jewish prisoner in order to learn about the gas chambers.  What’s wrong with that?

January 10, 2011

Primo Levi — The Story of Ten Days (Jan. 18th to Jan. 27th, 1945)

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 4:51 am

Auschwitz was abandoned by the German SS guards on January 18, 1945 and it was ten days before Soviet troops arrived to rescue the prisoners.  Primo Levi was an Italian Jew, who was a prisoner at the Monowitz labor camp in the Auschwitz complex.  In 1947, Levi wrote a poem entitled “If this is a man,” which is included in a book published in America under the title Survival in Auschwitz, the Nazi Assault on Humanity.

Chapter 17 of the book is entitled, “The Story of Ten Days.”  This is the story of what happened during the ten days that the prisoners were on their own, without the Germans to keep order and feed them.  There are some surprising revelations in this chapter.

Primo Levi had come down with scarlet fever on January 11, 1945 and he had been put into the hospital at Monowitz, so he was not able to join the march out of the camp on January 18, 1945.  He wrote that he was being treated in the hospital with sulpha drugs.

There has been a lot of speculation about why some of the prisoners stayed in the three Auschwitz camps (Auschwitz I, Birkenau and Monowitz) instead of following the fleeing Germans on January 18, 1945. The Holocaust experts believe that the prisoners were marched out of the camp for the purpose of killing them so that they could not testify about the gassing of the prisoners.  They believe that the prisoners joined the march for fear that they would be killed if they stayed behind.

Levi wrote that there were “rumours which had been circulating for some days: that the Russians were at Censtochowa sixty miles to the north; [...] that at Buna (Monowitz) the Germans were already preparing to sabotage mines.”

Strangely, Levi did not mention anything about the Germans blowing up the gas chambers at Birkenau.  Levi was a prisoner at Monowitz and perhaps he didn’t know what was going on at Birkenau.

In the “Author’s Preface” to the book, the first sentence reads: “It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German Government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average life-span of the prisoners destined for elimination…”  Primo Levi was never in the Birkenau camp, so he apparently never knew that 450,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed and burned there in only 10 weeks, starting in May 1944.

Levi had arrived in Auschwitz in January 1944.  He had been captured by the Italian Fascist Militia on 13 December 1943, according to his book. He  wrote that he had fled into the mountains to help set up what “should have become a partisan band affiliated with the Resistance movement Justice and Liberty.”  Levi thought that “the admission of my political activity would have meant torture and certain death.”  Remarkably, he wrote that he “preferred to admit my status of Italian citizen of Jewish race.”

So on the first page of Chapter 1 in his book, Levy reveals that he thought he would be killed if he admitted to being a partisan, but not if he admitted to being a Jew.  Yet on page 20, he wrote, with regard to the selections for the gas chamber, that “later a simpler method was often adopted of merely opening both of the doors of the wagon without warning or instructions to the new arrivals.  Those who by chance climbed down on one side of the convoy entered the camp; the others went to the gas chamber.”

Levi wrote in Chapter 17 that the day before the Monowitz camp was to be evacuated, a Greek doctor who was a prisoner himself came to the hospital and told the prisoners that “all patients able to walk would be given shoes and clothes and would leave the following day with the healthy ones on a twelve mile march.” The others would remain in the hospital with assistants to be chosen from the patients who were the least sick.  When Levi asked the doctor what would happen to the sick prisoners, the doctor said that “probably the Germans would leave us to our fate: no, he did not think that they would kill us.”

Levi did not believe the doctor. He wrote that the doctor “made no effort to hide the fact that he thought otherwise. His very cheerfulness boded ill.”

Levi himself had no choice; he was too sick with scarlet fever to join the march.  He was in the ward for patients with infectious diseases.  Even if he had wanted to go on the death march, he would probably not have been allowed to go, for fear of infecting the other prisoners with scarlet fever.  Elie Wiesel was also in the hospital in Monowitz and he chose to go on the march out of the camp.

After the Germans left with 60,000 of the prisoners on the night of January 18th, the last distribution of soup was given to the sick prisoners the next morning.  After that, the prisoners were on their own with no one to cook for them and no one to take care of the central heating plant.  It was 5 degrees below zero.

On page 157 of the paperback edition, Levi wrote that around 11 p.m. on Jan. 18th, “One could hear the roar of the aeroplanes. Then the bombardment began.”  I knew that Monowitz had been bombed several times, but I didn’t know that there were bombs dropped on the very night that the march out of the camp began.

Here is a quote from page 157:

After a few minutes it was obvious that the camp had been struck. Two huts were burning fiercely, another two had been pulverized, but they were all empty. [...] The Germans were no longer there.  The towers were empty.

This quote describes the situation after the air raid:

“No more water, or electricity, broken windows and doors slamming to in the wind, loose iron sheets from the roofs screeching, ashes from the fire drifting high, afar. The work of the bombs had been completed by the work of man: ragged, decrepit, skeleton-like patients at all able to move dragged themselves everywhere on the frozen soil, like an invasion of worms.”

After the Germans left, the prisoners in the hospital had nothing to eat except potatoes and turnips.  There were no Germans to bake the bread and cook the soup. There was no clean water and the prisoners had to drink melted snow.

On Jan. 22, the hospital patients went exploring in the SS camp that was immediately outside the electric barbed wire fence.  Levi wrote that the camp guards must have left in a great hurry because the prisoners found plates half full of by-now frozen soup, and mugs full of frozen beer, along with a chess board with an unfinished game.

Throughout the book, Levi had written that there were constant selections made in the hospital.  The patients who didn’t get well in a hurry were sent to the gas chambers.  In Chapter 17, Levi wrote about a seventeen year old Dutch Jew who “had been in bed for three months; I have no idea how he managed  to survive the selections.”  This was Levi’s second time in the camp hospital; he had previously been hospitalized for an injured foot.  In his book, Levi didn’t speculate on why he had not been selected for the gas chamber while he was hospitalized.

By Jan. 23rd, all the potatoes had been eaten.  The next day, Jan. 24, the prisoners in hut 14 of the hospital “organized an expedition to the English prisoner of war camp.”  There they found “margarine, custard powders, lard, soya bean flour, whiskey.”  It was a mile to the English POW camp and Levi and the other sick prisoners were not strong enough to walk there, even though they were starving and were desperate for food.

The Soviet soldiers finally arrived at Auschwitz on Jan. 27th and set up a temporary hospital. There were 12 prisoners in the infectious ward at Monowitz and only one of them died during the ten days after the Germans left.  Another prisoner in this ward died a few weeks later in the Russian hospital.

Here is Levi’s famous poem, “If this is a man”:

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

In conclusion: This is not a book review, but I must say that I found Levi’s attitude about his imprisonment to be very arrogant.  He criticizes the smallest details about his treatment.  He couldn’t stand the “infernal” German music.  The playing of the German song “Rosamunda” particularly irritated him. Regarding the playing of music, he wrote “the Germans created this monstrous rite.”

Levi didn’t like “that curt, barbaric barking of Germans.”  He refers to “the degenerate German engineer” of the train that was taking him to Auschwitz.  Why was the engineer of the train “degenerate?”  He had allowed water to be drawn from the engine to bathe a three year old girl who was on the train.

Levi had been arrested because he was a member of the Resistance.  As an illegal combatant, he could have been executed under the rules of the Geneva Convention.  There was a war going on.  Yet Levi expected to be treated as if he were at a resort.

At one point, Levi asked if the new arrivals would be given back their toothbrushes.   The prisoner, whom he had asked, told him in French: “you are not at home.”  Levi wrote “And it is this refrain that we hear repeated by everyone: you are not at home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney.”

He is critical of the signs and pictures showing the prisoners how to keep themselves clean.  He doesn’t like it when he is repeatedly warned not to drink the tap water.  His general attitude is that he hates the Germans even though he was treated well under the circumstances.

I learned from the Wikipedia entry about him that when Levi began to write this book, he wrote the chapter about the Ten Days first.  Apparently, his most vivid memory of his time in the camp was when he had scarlet fever and there were no German doctors to take care of him, and no Germans to keep order and hand out food to the prisoners.  He then began to understand the reason for the strict discipline in the camp.

The place where Primo Levi was imprisoned was the Auschwitz III labor camp, known as Monowitz; it was near a factory called the Buna Werke because it was a factory for making synthetic rubber.

The Monowitz industrial complex was built by Auschwitz inmates, beginning in April 1941. Initially, the workers walked from the Auschwitz main camp to the building site, a distance of 4 to 6 kilometers each way. By 1942, barracks had been built for the prisoners at Monowitz.

The Buna Werke was built in May 1942, six kilometers from the main Auschwitz camp, by the German company called IG Farbenindustrie. At first, it was one of the 40 sub-camps of the main camp, but in November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became Auschwitz III with its own sub-camps.

Monument in honor of the prisoners who died at Monowtiz

The monument to the prisoners who died at Monowitz, shown in the photo above, is located across the street from the ice hockey rink on the eastern side of the town of Oswiecim. According to a book entitled “Auschwitz 1940 – 1945″ which I purchased at the Auschwitz Museum, there were 30,000 prisoners employed by the IG-Farbenindustrie factories at Monowitz, who died during a 3-year period.

Bomb shelter for the SS guards at Monowitz

The photo above shows the ruins of a bomb shelter which the Nazis built near the Monowitz factories. The people on the left in the photo are Polish residents, not tourists. Note the street sign on the left; this building is on an ordinary city street in the town of Monowitz.   The Allies began bombing Monowitz in August 1944.

The barracks where the prisoners lived at Monowitz have all been torn down and replaced by houses.

Barracks at Monowitz, July 1944

In the photograph above, Heinrich Himmler is on the far right; the man in civilian clothes, who is shaking hands, is Max Faust. The barracks for the prisoners are shown in the background; prisoners from the main Auschwitz camp were transferred to the Monowitz barracks at the end of October 1942.

The Polish village of Monowice, which was called Monowitz by the Germans, is 4 kilometers from the site of the factories. Some of the old factory buildings are still standing, although now abandoned, while others are still in use as factories. The concrete wall around the factories, with its distinctive curved posts, can still be seen along the road from Oswiecim to the Krakow airport.

The Monowitz sub-camp was known as Bunalager (Buna Camp) until November 1943 when it became the KL Auschwitz III camp with its own administrative headquarters. Auschwitz III consisted of 28 sub-camps which were built between 1942 and 1944. This area of Upper Silesia was known as the “Black Triangle” because of its coal deposits. The Buna plant attracted the attention of the Allies, and there were several bombing raids on the factories.

When you enter the town of Oswiecim, coming from the Krakow airport, the fence is the first thing you see that tells you that the area around this town was once the home of Nazi forced labor camps, where the Jews worked as slave laborers. The fence stretches for miles and behind it are some factories, built by the Germans, that are still being used today. The factories and the ruins are off limits to visitors; the tour groups do not visit the ruins, and even the private tour guides refuse to take visitors there.

While he was a prisoner at Monowitz, Primo Levi met Lorenzo, an Italian who was a worker at the camp, not a prisoner. For six months, Lorenzo gave Primo extra bread each day, patched up shirts and even wrote a postcard for him to Italy.

Primo Levi as a young man

Regarding his survival at Auschwitz III, Levi wrote on page 132 of his book:

“If there is any point in trying to understand why I should be the one to be saved, out of so many thousands of others, I believe that it was primarily because of Lorenzo. And not necessarily because of his material help. It was much more because his treatment of me, his simple behavior and kindness, reminded me every day that there is still a humane and just world on the other side of the barbed wire fence; that outside the camp there are people with a heart, and that there are pure values; that not everything is corrupt and cruel; that a world without hatred and fear exists out there. It is true that all those are vague at the moment, distant and incomprehensible, but it is worth making the effort to survive in order to get back there.”

May 16, 2010

Gas chamber at Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz

In his famous book, entitled Night, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel never once mentioned the gas chambers at Auschwitz.  How could he not have known about the Auschwitz gas chambers?  That’s easy: he was sent to the Auschwitz III labor camp, known as Monowitz, a few weeks after his arrival.  But wait a minute! There was also a gas chamber at Monowitz, according to testimony at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal.

At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, which began in November 1945, the SS was indicted as a criminal organization. The star witness for the defense, on the charges against the SS, was Sturmbannführer Georg Konrad Morgen, a judge who was authorized by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to investigate the Nazi concentration camps for corruption and unauthorized murder. Dr. Morgen’s testimony is included in IMT vol. XX, p. 550 – 551.

Dr. Morgen found plenty of corruption at Auschwitz-Birkenau: the SS men were engaged in stealing from the warehouses where the possessions, that had been confiscated from the prisoners, were stored. In the course of his investigation in which he spoke to many of the prisoners, Dr. Morgen also claimed to have learned about the gassing of the Jews, not at the main Auschwitz camp, nor at Birkenau, but at Monowitz, a labor camp where the IG Farben company used Jewish prisoners as workers in  their factories.

In his testimony at Nuremberg, Dr. Morgen claimed that, although gas chambers existed at Monowitz, the SS was not involved in this crime. Dr. Morgen testified that the gas chambers at Monowitz were not under the jurisdiction of the SS and that the order to build these gas chambers had come directly from Adolf Hitler, who had given this order to Christian Wirth of the Kripo (Criminal Police), who was not a member of the SS, according to Dr. Morgen. Wirth had previously been in charge of the T-4 program in which severely disabled and retarded people had been gassed. Wirth later became the first commandant at the Belzec death camp, one of the three Aktion Reinhard camps under the jurisdiction of Odilo Globocnik.

On August 8, 1946, Dr. Morgen testified, as follows, at the Nuremberg IMT regarding the “extermination camp” at Monowitz:

Then the trucks left. They did not go to the Auschwitz concentration camp, but in another direction, to the Monowitz extermination camp, which was some kilometers distant. This extermination camp consisted of a series of crematoria not recognizable as such from the outside. They could be mistaken for large bath installations. Even the detainees knew it. These crematoria were surrounded by barbed wire and were tended on the inside by the Jewish working groups already mentioned.

(….)

The Monowitz extermination camp was set apart from the concentration camp. It was situated in a vast industrial zone and was not recognizable as such. Chimneys smoked all across the horizon. The camp itself was guarded on the outside by a detachment of Balts, Estonians, Lithuanians, and by Ukrainians. The entire procedure was almost entirely in the hands of the detainees themselves, who were supervised only from time to time by a subordinate officer (Unterführer ). The execution itself was carried out by another Unterführer who released the gas into that place.

In a deposition, given to the British shortly after he was captured, Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess confessed that there was a gas chamber at the Buna Works at Monowitz.

The following excerpt is from the deposition originally given to the British by Hoess:

In 1941 the first intakes of Jews came from Slovakia and Upper Silesia. People unfit to work were gassed in a room of the crematorium in accordance with an order which Himmler gave me personally.

I was ordered to see Himmler in Berlin in June 1941 and he told me, approximately, the following:

The Führer ordered the solution of the Jewish question in Europe. A few so called Vernichtungslager are existing in the General Goverment:

Belzec near Rawa Ruska Ost Polen

Treblinka near Malkinia on the River Bug

Wolzek near Lublin (He was probably referring to the Majdenek death camp)

The Buna Works

The Buna Works, which Commandant Rudolf Hoess mentioned, was another name for Auschwitz III, also known as Monowitz.  So, two top SS officials knew about the gas chamber at Monowitz, but what about the prisoners?  Did they also know about the Monowitz gas chamber.  Yes!

Sgt. Charles Coward was a British POW who had been captured in May 1940; he was sent to a POW camp near Monowitz in December 1943. Sgt. Coward testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal regarding the gas chamber at Monowitz.

The following excerpt is from Sgt. Coward’s testimony and affidavit as reported on this web site:

Affidavit Copy of Document NI-11696, Prosecution Exhibit 1462

COWARD: I made it a point to get one of the guards to take me to town under the pretense of buying new razor blades and stuff for our boys. For a few cigarettes he pointed out to me the various places where they had the gas chambers and the places where they took them down to be cremated. Everyone to whom I spoke gave the same story – the people in the city of Auschwitz, the SS men, concentration camp inmates, foreign workers – everyone said that thousands of people were being gassed and cremated at Auschwitz, and that the inmates who worked with us and who were unable to continue working because of their physical condition and were suddenly missing, had been sent to the gas chambers. The inmates who were selected to be gassed went through the procedure of preparing for a bath, they stripped their clothes off, and walked into the bathing room. Instead of showers, there was gas. All the camp knew it. All the civilian population knew it. I mixed with the civilian population at Auschwitz. I was at Auschwitz nearly every day…Nobody could live in Auschwitz and work in the plant, or even come down to the plant without knowing what was common knowledge to everybody.

Even while still at Auschwitz we got radio broadcasts from the outside speaking about the gassings and burnings at Auschwitz. I recall one of these broadcasts was by Anthony Eden himself. Also, there were pamphlets dropped in Auschwitz and the surrounding territory, one of which I personally read, which related what was going on in the camp at Auschwitz. These leaflets were scattered all over the countryside and must have been dropped from planes. They were in Polish and German. Under those circumstances, nobody could be at or near Auschwitz without knowing what was going on.

So, it appears that everyone who was at, or anywhere near Auschwitz, knew about the gas chambers.  Everyone except Elie Wiesel, that is.  There is a lot of speculation now that Elie Wiesel is a fraud, and that he wasn’t really a prisoner at Auschwitz.  If he was, in fact, a prisoner there, how come he never knew about the gas chambers?

As I see it, there are two possible conclusions:  Either there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, or Elie Wiesel was not a prisoner there?  So, which is it?

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