Book ‘an artistic picture’

Survivor never saw actual gassing deaths

A concentration camp survivor yesterday admitted he never witnessed anybody being gassed to death and his book about Auschwitz-Birkenau in only “an artistic picture … not a document for a court.”

Rudolf Vrba, now an assistant professor at the University of B.C., told the Ernst Zündel trial that his written and pictorial descriptions of the Auschwitz crematoria and gas chambers are based on “what I heard it might look like.”

Zündel is charged with knowingly publishing false information about the Holocaust that harmed or was likely to harm racial or social tolerance.

Defence attorney Doug Christie, of Victoria, challenged Vrba’s earlier testimony that he saw a Nazi SS soldier in a gas mask pouring poison gas into a low bunker connected to a Birkenau crematorium.

Vrba yesterday admitted he was never inside that particular bunker, after Christie suggested it was the roof of a mortuary Vrba had seen, not a gas chamber.

Vrba also admitted some of the thousands of women, elderly and children he claimed were marched directly to gas chambers upon arrival might have been going to the camp’s bathhouse.

“Yes. Some of them actually went there (bathhouse) and more went to the gas chambers,” said Vrba, who claimed many babies were gassed to death.

Vrba said his 1944 drawings of the Auschwitz camp layout were inexect and Christie suggested Vrba didn’t even know where the bathhouse was located.

Christie said new arrivals had to march between two crematoria to get to the bathhouse, but Vrba insisted the area ended in a “closed road” and “nobody ever came out of there except smoke.”

Vrba, who escaped the camp in Poland in 1944 with a mission to warn one million Hungarian Jews of their impending slaughter, insisted he’d made accurate [“within 10%”] estimates of 1,765,000 mass-murder victims up to that point.

He said some narrative passages in his book I Cannot Forgive are based on accounts from others.

One Vrba acount says it took 90 minutes to burn a corpse, another said it took 20 minutes.

“I also include things I heard from reliable sources,” Vrba said, exlaining the changes in his later report.

Vrba’s 1961 affadavit quotes a Nuremberg War Crimes Trial document as relating to Auschwitz gas chambers and claims it backs up Vrba’s account.

When Christie pointed out that [“Nazi government”] documents say nothing about gas chambers, Vrba replied: “It might be a typing error.”

Vrba, whose book states the total Auschwitz death toll was 2.5 million, testified Holocaust historians Raul Hilberg and Gerald Rietlinger were limited by “historical discipline” when they made lower estimates — 1 million and about 850,000 respectively — and did not have the benefit of Vrba’s eyewitness experiences.

Vrba also said increasing estimates of the Auschwitz death toll in the decades after World War II “just shows that better scholars with better methods are constantly improving the information.”

He defended “errors in good faith” in his 1944 Auschwitz accounts, which he made two weeks after escaping, as due to “great urgency” to warn Jews.


Dick Chapman

Toronto Sun

January 24, 1985