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More on Mauthausen and the Genesis of the Mass Gassings Allegation

By Thomas Kues

In a previous article [1] I have discussed the monthly radio broadcasts in German that the famous novelist Thomas Mann made during the war and the mentions of mass gassings of Jews made in them. Most significantly, in his speech from January 1942 the Nobel laureate in exile claimed that “Four hundred young Dutch Jews were brought to Germany to be used as guinea pigs for poison gas”. As far as I was able to determine, this was the first occurence of the allegation that the Germans were carrying out mass gassings of Jews. In his speech from June 1942 Mann again spoke of the gassed Dutch Jews, stating that the victims numbered not 400, but 800, and that the Jews in question had been “brought to Mauthausen and gassed there”. Comparison of the contents of the January speech with a diary entry written on 16 February 1942 by a Romanian-Jewish Bucarest physician named Emil Dorian strongly implies that the allegation did not originate with Mann, and that it had been spread also by other channels.

As for the background to the allegation I summarized the documented facts, as set out by Raul Hilberg, concerning two small convoys of young Dutch Jews who, as retaliation for underground activities, were deported to German concentration camps. The first convoy, consisting of 400 Jews, were sent first to Buchenwald in late February 1941, where a tenth of them perished during the following months. In the spring of 1941 the survivors were transferred to Mauthausen. In June a second convoy of 291 Amsterdam Jews were sent directly to Mauthausen. The deported Dutch Jews were set to carry out heavy work in quarries and mines, and many who did not perish from exhaustion or illness reportedly committed suicide. No “Holocaust” historian, including the foremost defender of the Mauthausen gas chamber legend, Hans Marsalek, has ever alleged that any of these Dutch Jews were “gassed” in Mauthausen. In conclusion, I wrote that Allied intelligence or Jewish organizations must have begun to disseminate the gassing allegation by January 1942 at the latest, and that the origin of the allegation no doubt required research into the clandestine publications of the Dutch resistance.

I have not yet had the opportunity to review any Dutch sources, but on the other hand I have found a number of news items from Jewish press that sheds more light on the issue. Below I will present these items and briefly discuss their implications.

On 28 November 1941 the German-Jewish exile weekly Aufbau, published in New York, carried the following item on p. 3:

From London comes the report that up to now at least 400 of the 680 young Dutch Jews sent to the concentration camp Mauthausen in Austria earlier this year have died. They perished due to deficient nutrition, hard labor and cruel treatment. Their families were forbidden to send food parcels to them in the camp.”

As shown by a notice in the American-Jewish bimonthly Contemporary Jewish Record this information was based on a news dispatch of unstated origin (possibly the Dutch government in exile) dated 17 November 1941.[2] Thus by late November the Jewish press in the West were aware of the fact that most of the deported Dutch Jews had perished, but in line with post-war historiography their deaths were described as being due to “natural” causes, not gassing.

On 5 December 1941 Aufbau presented under the title “The Secret of Mauthausen” two letters to the editor (on p. 6) which I will give here full in translation. The first letter, signed “Carl van Hester” reads:

In no. 48 [the 28 November issue] you carried a notice entitled ‘Dutch Jews in concentration camps’ which – as terrible as its contents are – do not by far make justice to the facts. Since we are dealing here with one of the worst crimes committed by the Nazi murderers I wish to submit to you the true facts for publication.
It is the question here of some 680 young Jews between 18 and 35 years of age, about half of them of Dutch nationality and the rest German emigrants to Holland, among them several former members of the wellknown agricultural training camp of Wieringen. One half of them were singled-out during a veritable manhunt on the streets of Amsterdam, carried out in retaliation to a demonstration calling for a general strike. This demonstration had in turn been spontaneously orchestrated by the population as an answer to the first German attempts to incite pogroms in the old Jewish quarters. This group first arrived in Buchenwald, where within a month perhaps 10 percent of them perished due to the ‘normal’ mortality. Then in summer the rest of them were sent on to Mauthausen.
In the meantime a second manhunt had taken place in Amsterdam resulting in the arrests of 300 to 350 young Jews. This time it was a reprisal for an alleged bombing attempt against an apartment building which housed German officers. These young folks were given careful medical examinations and a certain number of them with with bodily deficiencies were sent home. Initially one assumed that this was because
[only] human material useful for the labor service was needed. As it now turns out, it was obviously because only perfect ‘material’ can be used for laboratory experiments.
Also this group was transported to Mauthausen, and already some ten days later death notices began to arrive by the dozens, conveyed to the unhappy parents by the Gestapo in the rudest manner: By postcards they were summoned to the office
[of the German administration] where they had to receive the terrible news. One father, who had both of his sons in Mauthausen was summoned one Monday to report to the office the following Friday. Expecting the worst he asked, first on his own and then through a Christian Dutchman, if he could receive the news earlier. This was dismissed with the following words: ‘The Jew is scheduled for Friday and have to wait until then.’
When Friday came the official informed him briefly that one of his sons was dead. The father asked: I have another son there, how is he? The official leafed through his papers: ‘Oh, he died eight days ago.’
An American reader would hardly believe this story, but it is true, it is true, so help me God.
Whether any of the unlucky
[deported Dutch Jews] are still alive I do not know. I would not hope for it. Of the fifteen close, personal acquaintances which I had among them, not a single one is left alive.
How then did they die? A higher foreign dignitary has personally made the effort to request from higher circles in Berlin the release of a certain young person, whose parents he was befriended with. Various authorities, who thought it was the question of an ordinary concentration camp inmate, promised him assistance and their endorsement. However, as soon as the dignitary mentioned, that he was speaking of one of the young Dutchmen in Mauthausen, he was met instead with icy rejection. Finally, a high-ranking Nazi openly told him: ‘No-one leaves Mauthausen alive, and even if the war ended tomorrow the last of them would be bumped off
[umgelegt] already today. They are killed by poison gas [Die gehen an Giftgas zu Grunde].’ (Except for myself there are several other reliable witnesses here [in the Netherlands?] to whom he [the foreign dignitary] has told of this personally.)
I don’t write to you about all this because there is still a chance to save these poor. However, when the day comes for the world to judge Germany, one must recall such dreadful things and remind the world of them, so that not feeble pity clouds the eye.

The second letter, signed “R. Pisk (New York City)” is apparently published only in part:

…do you not find it remarkable, that out of 680 young, fresh, strong people 400 should have lost their lives due to overwork or malnutrition? Regrettably I personally have indications [Anhaltspunkte] that these poor youths have been subjected to poison gas experiments, which have killed them in droves…

These two letters prove that the gassing allegation was invented at the very latest in November 1941, i.e. prior to the alleged first mass gassings in the Chelmno camp. As for now, the identities of the letter writers remain a mystery. The letter signed “Carl van Hester” gives the impression to have been written by a Dutchman, probably one involved in the resistance movement, but if this person was still residing in the occupied Netherlands at this time, it seems obvious that he must have used a pseudonym. One must further assume that “R. Pisk” did not spell out his evidence for the gassings, or else the newspaper would certainly have published his letter in full, instead of devoting the remaining space to seven other letters concerning everything from savings and insurances to refugees on Mauritius.

On 10 April 1942 Aufbau again wrote of Mauthausen in a brief notice titled “Death Camp Mauthausen” (p. 2):

The Dutch government in London has announced 740 out of 1,200 Jews sent to forced labor in the salt and sulfur mines of Mauthausen have died. Without even the slightest protection they were abandoned by the Nazis to the poisonous fumes [den giftigen Dämpfen preisgegeben].”

This announcement from the Dutch government in exile in London is almost certainly the one Mann is referring to in his speech from June 1942 (“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, 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). It seems clear from the Aufbau notice, however, that the announcement in question did not attribute the deaths to any “poison gas experiments”, but to exposure to poisonous fumes in mines where the Jews reportedly had to work without protective gear. This is also the version maintained by the Institute of Jewish Affairs in an survey from August 1943:

In the summer of 1941 Jewish youths began to disappear from Holland; within a short time their number reached some 1,200. It became known that they had been sent to the concentration camp of Manthausen [sic] in Upper Austria where they were forced to work in suplhur mines without protection against the deadly fumes. According to an official statement of the Dutch government-in-exile, 740 of these young men died during the first four months of labor. At first, obituary notices appeared in the Dutch press; soon, however, such announcements were prohibited. Parents were called to Gestapo headquarters to receive news. Appointments were deliberately made days in advance so as to keep them in suspense. Usually their children had been dead for weeks. The ashes could be obtained upon remittance of 75 guilders.[3]

It is tempting to speculate that the people who made up the gassing story were “inspired” by real deaths or accidents involving such poisonous fumes and then combined this real element with the gas warfare paranoia carried over from World War I.[4]

In the Aufbau issue of 12 June 1942 we find the following brief article on page 5:

The news of the poison gas experiments first brought to a horrified world by Aufbau has now been confirmed by a high American official, who previously was stationed in Czechoslovakia and in the last week arrived in New York on the [Swedish] diplomat ship ‘Drottningholm’. Also he knows of events which have taken place in this camp, located 20 miles north of Linz. What is new is not that hundreds of the Jews arrested in Holland have been killed in these gas experiments or that some 1,200 of them have died in the mines near the camp – that is an allegation which the Dutch government already have made its own – but that this newly arrived official attest to that also several hundreds of Jews from Prague, robbed of all their papers and other signs of identification, have been brought to Mauthausen. According to the statements of the authorities in the Protectorate these deportees were sent to ghettos in Poland. Now it can be confirmed, however, that in reality they were sent to Mauthausen.
As has been reported to Aufbau by a reliable source, there has since some time existed a second Mauthausen in the former nunnery Liebenau in Württemberg, to where the Nazis brought feeble-minded young men – or whoever they classified as such – for purposes similar to those of Mauthausen. The prisoners in this camp were Jewish as well as non-Jewish. Later these experiments in Liebenau were discontinued and the nunnery transformed into an internment camp for foreign women.

According to post-war historians, mental patients housed in Liebenau were sent to be gassed at the Grafeneck euthanasia center, but there were no gassings at Liebenau itself.[5] The alleged poison gas experiments at Liebenau were reported also by the Contemporary Jewish Record, but in their report the victims had changed from mental patients to “hundreds of Jewish and Russian war prisoners”.[6] The same journal also reported on the mysterious American dignitary:

Several hundred others [of Czech Jews] were sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp, near Linz, where they are being used as ‘guinea pigs’ in Nazi poison gas experiments, an American official returning on the ‘Drottningholm’ revealed Aug. 10 [1942].”[7]

Could this “high American official” have been the same as the “higher foreign dignitary” mentioned in the letter of “Carl van Hester”? Any help with identifying this person would be most welcome.

On 3 July 1942 Aufbau again wrote of the Mauthausen gassings (p. 10):

According to reliable reports 700 young Jews have been killed by the Nazis through criminal poison gas experiments in the camp Mauthausen. As already announced in a previous issue we plan to draw up a list of the victims, partly in order to make contact with friends and relatives of the unlucky ones, partly out of historical-documentary reasons.
A publication of the names will not take place during the war and because of requests not in the future, either.
We have already received many notifications. Since many names still are missing we hereby renew the appeal to our readers.

I have not yet been able to locate the referred-to first appeal.

When the Mauthausen gassing allegation appeared for the last time in Aufbau on 9 October 1942 (p. 2) the number of gassing victims had been changed to encompass all Dutch Jews sent to the camp according to the April 1942 announcement of the Dutch government in exile:

These threats of the Nazis to send [Dutch] Jews to the concentration camp Mauthausen is all the more upsetting if one consider the atrocities which they have carried out in this camp located 20 miles north of Linz. As the first newspaper Aufbau reported earlier this year that the Nazis had conducted poison gas experiments on Dutch Jews, of whom some twelve hundred met their death.

The story of the Dutch Jews gassed at Mauthausen did not die there, however. On 16 December 1943 the following was reported from London:

The Germans are using prisoners from concentration camps as subjects for tests with poison gas, according to a young Dutchman, who recently escaped and now is in hospital, seriously ill, in a neutral country.
The Dutchman has given authenticated details of their sufferings to a Dutch Government representative.
The Dutchman says that he was sent to Mauthausen camp in Austria in 1942. From there he was taken in a van with 27 others to a large factory. This contained a number of laboratories and gas chambers with three windowless cement walls
[and] one of thick glass, through which the chemists and physiologists watched the ‘experiments.’
The prisoners were sent into one chamber naked three times. The first time they wore gas maks, and remained inside a quarter of an hour.
The Dutchman says: ‘After two minutes an intense skin prickling set in, after which we felt a glowing sensation. When we went out our temperatures were taken and blood drawn from our earlobes. We then received a strong chlorine shower bath. We did not experience any harmful results.
In a second experiment three weeks later we again wore gas masks, and again experienced a glowing sensation, which this time was followed by a feeling of intense cold. Ten of the victims developed sores and severe itching.
They were not exposed to the third experiment, in which 14 of us were sent in without gas masks for half an hour.
Grilles in the floor were uncovered. After a few minutes all of us vomited and became dizzy.
We gradually lost our sense of balance and fell over each other. We were only faintly conscious.
When the test ended laboratory assistants, clad in anti-gas suits, rubber gloves and shoes and gas masks, carried us out. Blood spurted from our nostrils, mouths and ears.
We again reached a chlorine shower, and our lungs and stomachs were X-rayed. Vomiting and dizziness continued for four days, but we were forced to resume our heavy camp labour.
We heard later from the guards that 40 young Jews had twice been exposed to the same ordeal. All had died.
[8]

The gassings alleged here are clearly experiments with poison gas, not gassings in the “Holocaust” sense. We further note that the “gas chambers” described clearly are identical neither with the alleged Mauthausen “gas chamber” or the “gas chamber” at the Euthanasia institute at Schloss Hartheim, that the experiments are dated to the year 1942, and that the number of Jewish victims mentioned is 40, not 400, 700, 800 or 1,200.

The idea that the Germans were conducting experiments with military poison gases had appeared already in an underground report on Auschwitz dated 24 October 1941, but in this instance the alleged victims were Soviet prisoners of war:

At Oswiecim [Auschwitz], in early October, 850 Russian officers and non-coms (prisoners of war) who had been brought there were put to death by gas in order to test a new war gas which is to be used on the eastern front.[9]

Did the Polish underground propagandists influence the Dutch ones, or vice versa? Was the notion derived from a common source? Is it really possible that two groups came up with more or less the same notion independent of each other? What role did the mysterious “Carl van Hester”, “R. Pisk” and the (American?) “higher foreign dignitary” play in the development of the mass gassings legend? What we know is that both the Mauthausen and the Auschwitz allegations are untrue.[10] Accordingly, we are dealing with two similar pieces of black propaganda. Which came first? To answer all those questions more research is clearly needed.


[1] “Thomas Mann’s War-time Radio Speeches and the Genesis of the Mass Gassing Allegations”, http://www.revblog.codoh.com/2010/08/thomas-manns-war-time-radio-speeches-and-the-genesis-of-the-mass-gassing-allegations/ [1]
[2] Contemporary Jewish Record, vol. 5 no. 2 (February 1942), p. 87.
[3] Boris Schub (ed.), Hitler’s Ten-Year War on the Jews, American Jewish Congress/World Jewish Congress, New York 1943, pp. 238-239.
[4] Cf. Samuel Crowell, The Gas Chambers of Sherlock Holmes, online: http://www.codoh.com/incon/inconshr123.html [2]
[5] http://www.wuerttembergisches-psychiatriemuseum.de/index.php?section=zwiefalten&page=1940 [3]
[6] Contemporary Jewish Record, vol. 5 no. 4 (August 1942), p. 426
[7] Contemporary Jewish Record, vol. 5 no. 5 (October 1942), p. 524
[8] Nazi Gas Tests On Prisoners”, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 17 December 1943, p. 2
[9] Oboz koncentracyjny Oswięcim w swietle akt Delegatury Rzadu R.P. na Kraj, Oswiecim 1968, p. 11
[10] For the latter see C. Mattogno, Auschwitz: The First Gassing, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2005