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Thomas Mann’s War-time Radio Speeches and the Genesis of the Mass Gassing Allegations

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By Thomas Kues

Thomas Mann (b. 1875) is one of the most well known German writers of the 20th century, famous for among others the novels Buddenbrooks, Tonio Kröger, Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain. In 1905 he married the Jewess Katia Pringsheim. In 1929 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Already before the rise of the National Socialists to power Mann had been a vocal opponent to their politics, and in 1933 he went into exile. From 1938 until 1952 he lived in the United States, from where he moved to Switzerland after having been accused of being a Stalin apologist and summoned to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Mann died in Zürich in 1955.

From 1940 to the end of the war Mann recorded a number of speeches in German which were sent to the BBC and broadcasted from London in order to reach German radio listeners. The first 30 speeches were published in book form in 1943, and after the end of the war a second edition of the book was published containing the texts of all 55 radio speeches.[1] For most of of the printed speeches only the month of broadcasting is indicated, only in some cases are exact dates given. Below I will present Mann’s statements on alleged mass gassings of Jews in chronological order and comment on their significance.

In his speech from September 1941 Mann stated that ”the idea of exterminating peoples [Völkervernichtung] is a Nazi idea, it has no place in the thinking of the democracies.”[2] Thus Mann is implying that genocide was on the National Socialist agenda from the beginning, and this no more than three months after the beginning of the Soviet-German war. This plan apparently did not encompass only the Jews, because in his next broadcast, from October 1941, Mann spoke of ”the systematic race murder which Hitler is committing against the French”! [3]

In the speech for November 1941 Mann named not only Jews but Poles and Serbs as well as victims of genocide:

”Three hundred thousand Serbs have been killed, not during the war with this country [Germany], but after, killed by you Germans on the orders of those wicked blackguards who rule over you. The unspeakable [Unaussprechliche] which has happened and is happening in Russia, with the Poles and Jews is known to you, but you would rather not know for the understandable terror you feel for the likewise unspeakable, ever growing hatred which will fall upon you the day your forces and machines loses their momentum.”[4]

By this point in time, the supposed genocide against the Jews was still ”unspeakable”, i.e. the propagandists had yet to invent the modus operandi to ascribe to the Germans. This was to change soon enough, however.

Two months later, in the speech from January 1942, Mann had an astounding tale to tell his listeners:

”The news sounds implausible, but my source is good. In numerous Dutch-Jewish families in Amsterdam and other cities, so I have been informed, one mourns deeply for sons, who have suffered a horrible death. Four hundred young Dutch Jews were brought to Germany to be used as guinea pigs for poison gas. The virulence of this chivalrous and through and through German weapon of war, a true weapon of Siegfried, has proven itself against the young subhumans. They are dead, dead for the sake of the New Order and the military ingeniosity of the Master Race. At least for that they were good enough. After all, they were Jews.”[5]

A bit later in the text Mann refers to the above alleged event as ”the trial gassing [Probevergasung] of four hundred young Jews”.[6]

In his speech from June 1942 Mann returned to the subject of the gassed Dutch Jews:

”In one of my earlier broadcasts I made myself guilty of a regrettable mitigation of the truth. I spoke of Nazi atrocities and mentioned that 400 young Dutchmen of Jewish blood had been brought to German to be killed with poison gas. Now I hear via indirect channels from Holland, that the number of victims mentioned by me was nearly half that of the actual figure. It was almost 800 people who were arrested at that time, brought to Mauthausen and gassed there. The exact figure has meanwhile been published by the Dutch government [in exile?], but since I do not believe that this report has yet reached you, I do well to pass on to you this privately received information.”[7]

The reality behind this allegation is described by Raul Hilberg as follows: In early February 1941 German Security Police men were attacked by Jewish members of the resistance. On 25 February the Higher SS and Police Leader Rauter proclaimed that 400 Jews in the age group 20-35 had been sent to a German concentration camp. A total of 389 youths were in fact sent to Buchenwald, where a tenth of them perished in the next months. The survivors were sent on to Mauthausen. In June another 291 Amsterdam Jews were sent there directly. The Dutch Jews in Mauthausen were set to carry out heavy work in a stone quarry, and many who did not perish from exhaustion or illness reportedly committed suicide. Following concentration camp routine, the Mauthausen command sent death notices to the families of the deceased.[8] No Holocaust historian has ever asserted that the Dutch Jews deported to Mauthausen in 1941, or even part of them, were killed with poison gas. According to the foremost defender of the Mauthausen gas chamber legend, Hans Marsalek, the alleged homicidal gas chamber of that camp was not put in operation before May 1942, and of the either 526 or 726 victims supposedly gassed (on a total of five occasions) up until 9 September 1944, all were either Soviet, Czech or Polish citizens.[9] Thus none of the approximately 640 Dutch Jews sent to Mauthausen in 1941 could have been gassed there, even from an exterminationist viewpoint.

In the most exhaustive (2253 pages) Mann biography to date, that of Klaus Harpprecht [10] – which otherwise makes many references to the radio speeches – the remarkable fact that the famous novelist was one of the first known persons – perhaps even the first – to speak of mass gassings of Jews is passed over in silence, and we find no hints as to what Mann’s source could have been.

On 16 February 1942 the Romanian-Jewish Bucarest physician Emil Dorian entered into his diary:

”We have learned that a German industrial plant has developed a particularly powerful poison gas. Its efficiency was tested on four hundred Jewish youths picked up from a concentration camp. All of them died, of course. Soon afterward, Thomas Mann spoke on the American radio, denouncing this shameful crime and placing responsibility on the entire German nation (…).”[11]

The unnamed ”particularly powerful poison gas” and the concentration camp are not mentioned in Mann’s January speech, at least not as printed, suggesting that other sources as well were spreading the gassing allegation by this time. From this we may conclude that Allied intelligence or Jewish organizations had begun to disseminate mass gassing allegations by January 1942 at the very latest. To determine when and where the allegation originated would no doubt require research into the clandestine publications of the Dutch resistance.

Thomas Mann in 1937 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In his speech from August 1942 Mann returned to the French, stating that the Germans aimed to reduce the population of France to twenty million.[12] Since the population of France in 1939 was approximately 41,7 million, this implies that the Germans were planning to kill or cause the death of more than 20 million French! In reality, the French casualities during the war amounted to 567,600, whereof 217,600 military deaths – this figure also includes 83,000 real or alleged ”Holocaust” victims.[13] Considering that the number of other deaths amounted to 267,000 – most undoubtedly due to bombings, killings of resistance fighters etc. – the notion that Hitler was waging a campaign of extermination against the French is patently ridiculous.

On 27 September 1942 Mann claimed that Goebbels had made the following statement in a recent radio speech:

“It is our goal [...] to exterminate [auszurotten] the Jews. Regardless if we win or loose the war, we must, and will, reach this goal. Should the German army be forced to retreat, it would on its way back eliminate [vertilgen] the last Jews from the face of the earth.”[14]

The author of this article has not been able to find a preserved speech of Goebbel’s from the period in question which corresponds to the “quote” presented by Mann. Moreover two things immediately strikes one as odd about the contents of the alleged speech: Would Goebbels, in a public radio speech in 1942, have mentioned the possibility of defeat, even in the most hypothetical terms? And how would the retreating German army have been able to “eliminate the last Jews from the face of the earth”, when the majority of the world’s Jewish population lived outside the German-controlled sphere?

In the same speech Mann repeated the well-known propaganda figure of 700,000 murdered Jews, “whereof 70,000 alone in the region of Minsk”. He then provided his listeners with two mass gassing stories:

“In Paris 16,000 Jews were herded together within a few days, loaded onto cattle cars and sent away. Whereto? One who knows is the German train engineer who has been reported about in Switzerland. He fled there after several times having to drive trains filled with Jews, which were halted on an open stretch of track, hermetically sealed and then gassed through [durchgast]. The man could not stand it anymore. Yet his experience is far from exceptional. A precise and authentic report is available on the killing of not less than 11,000 Polish Jews with poison gas. They were brought to a special execution site [Exekutionsfeld] near Konim [sic] in the Warsaw District, put inside vans [Wagen] which had been sealed air-tight, and transformed into corpses within fifteen minutes. We have a detailed description of the whole process, of the screams and pleas of the victims and the merry laughter of the SS hottentots, who took fun in performing their task.”[15]

This description of gassings of Polish and French Jews is actually remarked on by Mann biographer Harpprecht,[16] though he refrains from mentioning how exactly the gassing of the French Jews was allegedly carried out.

It is a documented fact that the transports of Paris Jews which Mann refers to were sent to Auschwitz, which means that the story of the anonymous train engineer must be completely fictitious. As for the fate of these deportees, Holocaust historians maintain that most of them were gassed after their arrival in Auschwitz, but there is good reason to believe that these “gassed” Jews were in fact sent on from Auschwitz to the Ukraine. On 15 August 1942 the aforementioned Emil Dorian entered into his diary:

“There are persistent rumors about trains passing through the northern part of Moldavia, carrying Jews from occupied France sent by the Germans to the east. It is known that 20,000 Jews in occupied France have been recently deported from there, but no one could guess where they were sent. There are details: Sealed cars, dreadful thirst, no food.”[17]

Trains from the west passing through northern Moldavia would likely end up in the Ukraine. This fits well with the report published in the underground newspaper Notre Voix in April 1944 that 8,000 Jews from Paris (which was in the occupied part of France) had been liberated at an unnamed location in the Ukraine by the advancing Red Army.[18] Other allegedly gassed French Jews were sent to Minsk and to Latvia, as is shown in the upcoming second part of my article “Evidence for the Presence of ‘Gassed’ Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories“.[19]

While it is correct that the Chelmno “extermination camp” was located not very far from Konin – which however was not in the Warsaw District, but in the Warthegau – it seems odd that one was aware of these alleged 11,000 victims, while apparently remaining unaware of the more than 120,000 other Jews who had supposedly been killed in the Chelmno camp by that point in time.[20] The description of the killing process as related by Mann further bear all the hallmarks of black propaganda.

On 27 June 1943 Mann told his listeners that “almost a million have been executed or murdered”.[21] It is not made clear whether this refer to only Jews or to Non-Jews also. Considering the 700,000 figure previously reported by Mann this would mean that “only” 300,000 people (Jews?) had fallen victim of the Germans during the preceding nine months.

Finally, on 14 January 1945, Mann devoted a large part of his speech to Majdanek and Auschwitz. The former camp he describes as containing “the largest crematorium in the world”.[22] Curiously, he gives the number of Majdanek victims as “more than half a million”, despite the victim figure propagated by the Soviets at the time (and later at the Nuremberg Trial) being 1,5 million (the current official estimate is 78,000).[23] Perhaps this was simply an error on Mann’s part. Even more curious is Mann’s claim that the Majdanek victims were poisoned in gas chambers with chlorine.[24] This alleged murder weapon is found nowhere else in Majdanek-related propaganda. On the other hand it was claimed by several early Sobibór witnesses that gassings had been carried out at this “extermination camp” using chlorine.[25]

Mann’s description of Auschwitz is clearly based on the Vrba-Wetzler report, but either the famous author had not read the report itself, or he was consciously “improving” on it, for here the alleged victim figure is presented not as the “informed” estimate of the report’s author, but as an exact figure revealed by the unexplained discovery of the “Registry of Death”.[26] Further one had discovered “hundreds of thousands of passports and personal documents belonging to members of no less than twenty-two European nationalities”, and not only that: “These lunatics had also kept books on the bone meal, the fertilizer produced by this operation.”[27] How any such discoveries were possible remains a complete mystery, considering that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army on 21 January 1945, i.e. one week after Mann’s speech! What may point to Mann relying on second-hand information on the Vrba-Wetzler report is the fact that the (Jewish) Auschwitz victim figure is given in the text of the speech as 1,715,000 instead of 1,765,000 as per the report.

Not surprisingly, Harpprecht has no comment to offer on the bizarre description of the ”death factories” other than a pious reflection on the undoubtable fact that the alleged genocide on the Jews is the lowest point in the history of mankind, and that Auschwitz was ”the Hell on Earth” to which the mass murders of Stalin or Mao can not possibly be compared.[28]

In his speech from January 1942 Mann warned his listeners that ”the tendency to view such stories as atrocity propaganda [Greuelmärchen] remains widespread, to the benefit of the enemy”.[29] As Mann proceeded to declare, the reports on mass killings of Jews were not simply “stories”, but history in the making.[30] This is highly ironic, considering that most of the supposedly authentic and reliable reports on mass killings relayed by Mann to his listeners have been quietly thrown down the memory hole. The speeches made by Mann during the war years are actually mythology in the making, and reading them gives us more insight into how and when the mass gassing allegations arose and provides us with leads to follow up in future research into this issue.

[1] Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer! 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, 2nd edition, Bermann-Fischer Verlag, Stockholm 1945.
[2] Ibid., p. 38.
[3] Ibid., p. 41.
[4] Ibid., p. 44.
[5] Ibid., p. 48.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., p. 62.
[8] R. Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 3rd edition, Yale University Press, New Haven / London 2003, vol. II, p. 613f).
[9] H. Marsalek, Die Geschichte der Konzentrationslager Mauthausen, Vienna 1974, p. 227; Giftgas in Mauthausen, Vienna 1988, p. 15
[10] K. Harpprecht, Thomas Mann. Eine Biographie, Rowohlt 1995.
[11] E. Dorian, The Quality of Witness. A Romanian Diary 1937-1944, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1982, p. 197.
[12] Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer! 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, op.cit., p. 69.
[14] Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer! 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, op.cit., p. 72.
[15] Ibid., p. 73.
[16] K. Harpprecht, Thomas Mann. Eine Biographie, op.cit., p. 1313
[17] E. Dorian, The Quality of Witness, op.cit., p. 221
[18] Carlo Mattogno, Jürgen Graf, Treblinka. Extermination Camp or Transit Camp?, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004, pp. 257-258.
[19] The first part of this article is available online at: The second part is scheduled to be published in the 2010 winter issue of the web journal Inconvenient History.
[20] Cf. C. Mattogno, Il Campo di Chelmno tra Storia e Propaganda, Effepi, Genoa 2009, chapter 12.2.
[21] Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer! 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, op.cit., p. 93.
[22] Ibid., p. 118.
[23] Cf. Jürgen Graf, “Zur Revision der Opferzahl von Majdanek” online:
[24] Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer! 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, op.cit., p. 118.
[25] Cf.. J. Graf, T. Kues, C. Mattogno, Sobibór. Holocaust Propaganda and Reality, TBR Books, Washington DC 2010, pp. 71-72
[26] “Man hat die Registratur des Todes gefunden”; Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer! 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, op.cit., p. 118.
[27] Ibid.
[28] K. Harpprecht, Thomas Mann. Eine Biographie, op.cit., p. 1458.
[29] Thomas Mann, Deutsche Hörer! 55 Radiosendungen nach Deutschland, op.cit., p. 48.
[30] Ibid.