Auschwitz: The Paradox of Experiences

How a Witness Did Not See the Forest for the Trees

By Dipl.-Ing. Gerhart Baum

The Cause

On November 2, 1996, a lady named Ruth Schindler wrote a letter to the editor of the German daily newspaper Die Welt. Her letter began with the statement that she was an Auschwitz survivor, a fact which probably placed her on higher moral ground in the eyes of many readers. One reader of this newspaper wanted to know more about her experience in Auschwitz and wrote a response to the author of the letter (name and address known to the editor):

The Correspondence

A.E. [...] [...], 11/3/1996

Mrs. Ruth Schindler, [...]

Subject: Your Letter to the Editor of Die Welt on 11/2/1996, Page 9

Dear Mrs. Schindler,

As a member of the post-war generation, I read your letter to the editor of Die Welt on 11/2/1996 with great interest. You wrote:

“I was born in Prague, am a Jewish woman, and spent a full year inside the family camp at Auschwitz. My whole group was gassed the night of March 6, 1944 – only 22 people survived.”

I have two questions about your horrific life experience:

What is a “family camp”? – Could you give me a brief description?

Obviously you are one of the 22 people mentioned above who survived (the walk to) the gas chambers. Could you tell me how and why you and your 21 fellow sufferers had the great fortune to survive this?

I would be very grateful for a clarification from you, for was it not the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Ignatz Bubis, who once said that one must be familiar with history in order to learn from it? You are a living eyewitness who knows what I cannot.

Sincerely,

A.E.


Ruth Schindler [...] 11/5/96

To Mr. A.E. [... ]

Dear Mr. E.,

I received your letter today and would like to answer it right away. I am always pleased when I find interest and sympathy for my reports within the “postwar” generation. I speak frequently before young people, because I think that it is important to keep them informed, so that the tragic history of the Germans never repeats itself. I will try to answer your questions briefly.

1. Family Camp: Five thousand people from the ghetto Theresienstadt – men, women and children – were deported to Auschwitz in closed cattle cars and brought to the camp Birkenau Bllb, a sub-camp of Auschwitz. Men on one side of the camp and women on the other, five hundred people crowded together in a block. Another five thousand people came to our camp in December, and 2,500 in May 1944. I am only reporting the facts, without emotion, which would take too many pages.

During the Nazis’ occupation of the CSR, my country, I had already decided to never obey them, and I also stuck with this firmly. I brought – I came with my mother – my food bag in the camp, which was against the rules. This was my salvation. During the excitement that came from being tattooed with a number on my left arm – we did not get anything to eat or to drink for two days – I drank from the aluminum bottle in my bag, believing it was vinegar. It was vinegar concentrate, which we had taken with us for the long journey to the east. I immediately felt bad burns in my throat and was brought to the sick-bay (hospital) in our camp for treatment. My mother stayed in the block and reported terrible stories daily about the crowding and hunger there. Therefore I wanted to stay in the hospital as a nurse and also put in a request for a job in the hospital office (admission and discharge). Our record cards on file in the main camp, as we learned later, were marked with SB after six months, which stands for “Sonderbehandlung”, which means gassing. When the time arrived on March 6, 1944, Mengele (the name is certainly known to you) prepared a deferment list for doctors, nurses and five pairs of twins, whom he performed tests on. After 32 hours of anxiously waiting inside the quarantine camp next to us, our locked block was opened and the hospital personnel were permitted to return to the camp Bllb. 120 sick people also survived, among them my mother. We were told that we were to be sent to Heidebrek to work, so that no panic would develop. My mother was sick in my station and survived. This was great luck. I was not afraid and also falsified index cards for the next gassing in July 1944, when people who were able to work were sent to other camps: only those between fifteen and fifty years of age were sent, so I changed my age. I was also in the KZ Stutthof and Korben close to Bromberg in a tent camp, and we dug trenches for the Todt Organization. My mother was always with me and peeled potatoes in the kitchen. I was very lucky and worked in a small office inside the tent with our shoemaker. There were two thousand women altogether. There was hardly anything to write, we only prepared the index cards for the camp. We also had more to eat, we were all young and had no dead. We had the great fortune to be liberated in the east by the Russians on January 26, 1945. However we did participate in the so-called death march, where weak and sick girls who could not walk any longer were shot by the Latvian SS who guarded us. This was a great tragedy. Nevertheless, after liberation I made the following resolution: I will not hate and will never speak of collective guilt. I have been faithful to this.

I hope that I have given you sufficient explanations, and if you have children, they should also read my report. The young should always speak out against injustice. They must defend themselves and never be afraid! My mother lived with us in Hamburg. I married my childhood sweetheart from Prague, from gymnasium and dancing lessons. He is not Jewish, but always stayed with me, also without fear! We married after the war, a real love story. My husband was drafted but survived Russia, also with much luck. Our story was shown on TV the year before last. I wish you the very best and I am pleased about your attitude, as I already mentioned.

With friendly greetings

Your [signed] Ruth Schindler


A.E. [...] [...], 11/25/1996

Mrs. Ruth Schindler, [... ]

Dear Mrs. Schindler,

I thank you very much for your letter of 11/5/96 and the very detailed description of your stay in the KL Auschwitz. It’s very different to hear a personal, eye witness account of how it was at that time than to read the “reports” in the newspapers, which were written by young people who really could not know firsthand what they were writing about. While reading your letter, I had the urge to sit at the side of my grandfather again, who could also talk interestingly about his time, a time which I, as one who was born after the war, only know from the history books.

But I missed something, i.e. a thorough description of those terrible gas chambers, about which much is always written and talked, and I don’t know whether that is all correct. You wrote about the gas chambers rather casually and much too little for my satisfaction. Of course almost 50 years have passed since then, and this is a long, long time for everyone. But on the other hand it is known that older people and especially older women have excellent memories for events from long ago.

Could you please describe to me once more what you can report about the gas chambers? Please attempt in your answer if possible to clearly describe what you saw yourself and what you only know from hearsay. Then I can read to my children later (I kept your first letter, of course) what a Jewish eyewitness experienced herself and what she heard from others.

With friendly greetings your [signed] A.E.


Ruth Schindler [...] 11/28/1996

To Mr. A.E. [... ] Dear Mr. E.,

I received your letter yesterday and would like to answer right away. I don’t like to carry on this horrible subject, which you inquire too much about, and therefore would rather answer right away. I already told you that my whole group was killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in the night from March 6 to March 7, 1944. The oldest of the camp, a Hamburger by the way, therefore a German inmate, came into our room in the hospital crying, banged his head against the table and said that he saw them all lying dead, gassed. Hanna, Wera, Ilse etc. (His name was Willi Brachmann, much older than ourselves; he is not alive any more, but I spoke with him here in Hamburg.) But we do not need Willi B. for this; all of us in Auschwitz knew what was going on right after our arrival in this hell. It smelled of smoke, the chimneys were continuously burning, and older inmates explained to us that people were gassed here by the thousands daily. Often whole transports went directly from the ramp (railroad platform) to the so-called “bathrooms”, where they had to undress. They were told they had to take a shower and receive new clothes, and then they were forced naked into the chambers. Other inmates, the so-called “Sonderkommando,” had to do this terrible job. These inmates were also gassed after about two months, because they knew too much. As far as I know two survivors of this commando live now in Israel. Only Jewish inmates were allowed to do this work. The people were driven into concrete chambers, too many, tightly pressed against each other. Heavy doors were closed from the outside. Above was an aperture through which SS officers discharged Zyklon-B from containers, the opening was closed and the people suffocated, the ones at the bottom faster, the ones on top slower. It lasted 3 minutes as measured. Terrible. Horror stories are nothing compared to this. The corpses were then dragged out by inmates and burned in the crematoria. The chimneys smoked without interruption, and it always smelled of burned flesh in Auschwitz. So, I have had enough of this report now. It is always quite exhausting.

Buy yourself a book from Hermann Langbein about Auschwitz. He was the oldest German inmate in Auschwitz and lived through all of it and wrote many books. He died at the age of 84 years about a year ago; I knew him personally from lectures. He was also a witness during many trials. Another excellent book is Der SS-Staat by Eugen Kogon. Because the killing was initially too slow, the Nazis developed over the time the factory style killing, which murdered masses of people, about 4 million. German companies were the producers. Unique in the history of mankind.

Many friendly greetings from

[signed] Ruth Schindler

Turn the page!

I read your letter once more. [I] saw the gas chambers myself twice! The first time was when I had my appendix removed in the F-camp. Right next to it was the building with the gas chamber. At night, from the recovery room, I saw how fully loaded buses drove there, the people were screaming, it was awful. These trucks disappeared into nowhere, the people as smoke into the sky. An old inmate woke me up – after my operation – so that I could see everything. I saw the chambers the second time when we could leave Auschwitz as workers in July 1944, thank God. We spent a whole night sitting close by and did not know whether we would leave or not. Then we were taken in the morning to have a shower. Before that we had a selection in my BIIb camp; only those who could work survived our camp. In July we were about 7000 people, 2000 were selected for work, the rest were gassed, older and sick people, especially many children. You should call me and thank me for the physical effort I have put into reporting all this to you, really.

[...telephone number] I was not inside the gas chambers, else I could not write to you!


Layout of the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Frau Schindler was in one of the barracks of the camp section BIIf (near the pond at crematorium IV), when buses or trucks passed by on the road running between crematoria IV and V (KIV, KV). Whether the buses drove to crematorium IV or V or to the central sauna (marked with S) is not clear.

The Analysis

Medical Help for the Inmates

According to the established historiography, inmates, especially Jews, who fell sick inside the camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, were not cared for at great cost, but were sent into the gas chambers together with inmates who were unable to work, the elderly, and children. The existence of the rather large hospital in Auschwitz-Birkenau, however, is an indication that this was not so. The many thousands of medical reports about the types of treatment and recovery of patients, which came to light in connection with the trial case of Weise, are clear proof of the actual massive medical help given in the hospital.1

And finally, Frau Schindler herself is the best proof for the thesis that sick inmates were helped in Auschwitz: her throat burn was treated; she kept a data file about many sick people who were dismissed after their recovery; 120 sick inmates survived a selection; her appendix was surgically removed; her sick mother was allowed to cure her illness without a problem. The way in which Frau Schindler reported about this medical help is also proof that in Auschwitz it was an unquestioned part of the welfare of inmates.

Special Treatment and Quarantine Measures

A widely known prominent example of a survived “Sonderbehandlung” (special treatment) is Simone Veil, born Jacobs, who also had a “SB” entered in the lists of the KZ Auschwitz, but survived this treatment and later could advance to the position of the President of the European Parliament.

As W. Stromberger and Carlo Mattogno indicated, the word “Sonderbehandlung” in Auschwitz actually stands for special hygienic measures for the prevention of epidemics, i.e. delousing, physical cleaning, quarantine etc.2 Frau Schindler herself supports this interpretation when reporting that she was in the quarantine section of the camp inside a cordoned-off barrack where she had to stay for an extended period of time. Also, her alleged first observation of the gas chamber sounds of such a measure. She reported that she observed buses or trucks driving to a building directly adjacent to the sick camp, wherein she only assumed (!) that there were gas chambers (she did not see any, as she said so herself).

According to the plan of Birkenau, the buildings of the sick camp (BIIf) were located directly adjacent to crematorium V and at the access street to the Central Sauna, which was the main place for camp hygiene with showers for inmates, steam-, and hot-air delousing equipment since the beginning of 1944. Since all new camp arrivals had to go through a cleaning procedure for hygienic reasons, it is not unlikely that this is where they were sent. But to Mrs. Schindler these vehicles full of people simply disappeared without leaving a trace (which of course is not possible).

Selections for Work Deployment

The established historiography presumes that the purpose of the selections was to find the inmates who were incapable to work in order to subsequently kill (gas) them. But Frau Schindler’s statements support the revisionist thesis that the purpose of the selections was to assemble work forces, which were then mostly transferred to other concentration and work camps. According to her report, the selection were used to transfer herself and other employable inmates to the Stutthof camp or Korben camp.

This confirms the findings of Pressac, who discovered that a significant number of Auschwitz inmates were not gassed after the selection, but were transferred to Stutthof.3 There were probably still many more of such heretofore undiscovered inmate transfers to other camps, which were so far falsely interpreted as selections for the “gas chambers”.

Mrs. Schindler herself discloses the false connection of the selection for the transfer to other camps and alleged gassings, which looked like a “disappearance without a trace” to the inmates who stayed behind:

[...] during the next gassing, when employables were transferred to work in other camps.”

And Mrs. Schindler even gives us a hint as to how the rumor of the “gas chambers” started: She herself was selected and had to walk afterwards naked into a shower, because she evidently had to undergo the usual hygienic procedure before her transport to the Stutthof camp. How would the inmates that stayed in the camp have interpreted this scene: Mrs. Schindler is selected with many other inmates and leaves her barrack with all her goods. She walks naked into a shower and does not return to the barrack. “Was she gassed?”, asked the ones who stayed behind scarily themselves. Since many inmates in war and concentration camps develop a camp psychosis, which finds an expression in wild fantasies and rampant rumors, it is easily explainable how such untenable stories originate in this manner.

A view of crematorium V. Crematoria IV and V were situated in a wooded area of the camp. Mrs. Schindler could from her place in the hospital actually only observe the buses or trucks “disappear”, but not where the people were actually taken and what happened to them.

Testimony from Hearsay

In her second letter. Mrs. Schindler describes in detail the procedure of the alleged homicidal killings at that time. Upon rereading the letter of her correspondent she is reminded to differentiate between what she experienced herself and what is hearsay, and she makes a significant addition: She herself never saw a gas chamber nor observed a gassing from a distance. The only thing she can report on are buses or trucks which disappeared in the darkness of the night in the direction of a crematorium or the central sauna, and her own walk into a shower after her selection.

Frau Schindler’s reference to Willi Brachmann, who unfortunately already died, reminds one of the experiences of Paul Rassinier and Robert Faurisson, who very frequently, when they questioned alleged witnesses about the gas chambers, received the answer that the witnesses themselves did not see such things, but that this or the other credible, absolutely reliable friend, who unfortunately already died, reported this to him.

Her references to the books by Hermann Langbein and Eugen Kogon are finally a strong indication of what material she used to supplement her own memories with, where the interpretations originate, which she merges with her own experiences. That these reports of hearsay are furthermore verifiably false (i.e. the flaming chimney stacks) is only mentioned as an aside.

However, she does not notice that her experiences prove exactly the opposite of what she learned from the literature and from acquaintances with other even prominent “survivors.” She could actually discover a good part of the whole truth from the many individual, strong facts of her own memory. But she does not see the forest for the trees because of the massive propaganda of her environment.

Notes

First published as “Auschwitz: Die Paradoxie der Erlebnisse”, in Vierteljahreshefte fur freie Geschichtsforschung 1(3) (1997), pp. 195-199.