Gross insult to memory of victims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 1996, 12:00am

RONALD MacEachan's essay in the applied logistics of genocide (South China Morning Post, January 31), is one of the more unpleasant attempts at revisionist history to have been published recently. Let us take a few of his points for scrutiny.

Firstly, the contention that 10 camps existed at the start of the 'operation' is not one with which I argue. Mr MacEachan however, then calculates the remainder of his figures on the basis of these 10 camps. This is incorrect.

The number of camps had, by early 1945, increased dramatically. Secondly, ovens were not used for disposal of human remains until late in the war, when it became apparent, even to the most diehard Nazis, that the war was lost and a reckoning due. Since the original 'final solution' had envisaged deporting European Jews en masse to Madagascar, the camps were only designed as holding areas.

They were certainly used for slave labour and deaths were frequent and on a large scale. Dead bodies were regarded by the authorities as an inconvenient by-product of cheap labour. Once the Madagascar option was seen to be untenable, conditions worsened and killing became more frequent. As the death toll mounted efforts to remove the bodies consisted in many cases of mass burial, the corpses being spread with quicklime to speed the process of decay.

Given that a corpse may take up 0.34 cubic metres (1.8 metres by 0.6 m by 0.3 m), a mass grave 24 m long, six metres wide and three metres deep, could hold at least 1,000 bodies. Such a pit could be dug in less than a day, using an excavator. The Germans had plenty of excavators and plenty of space.

As to the mechanics of mass murder, it took the Germans a long time to hit upon the idea of poison gas (Zyclon B was a concentrated form of pesticide and the authorities had to negotiate with the manufacturers before the latter would allow its use - they were apparently concerned at the future commercial problems of allowing their product to be used without its in-built 'signature' odour).

Prior to this, it was common practice to deliberately work and starve inmates to death. Killing was usually done by automatic weapons fire, but this was wasteful of ammunition and rarely 100 per cent effective; a few usually survived even the most concentrated volleys. It is true that most of the prisoners were compliant. They chose to believe their captors when told they were going to work camps. After all, nobody had returned home to disprove the fiction.

In any event, they were usually weakened by hunger and sickness and in no condition to overcome well-armed and alert guards. Much has been written on the victim psychology of the Holocaust and I will not dwell on it here.

Movement of victims was not as difficult as Mr MacEachan makes out. Most of the camps were in the east and those railway lines did not receive the attention of the Allied air forces until very late in the war as they were too far behind German lines.

The Western Allies' primary strategic air objectives were cities and the smaller ground attack aircraft used against trains and other point targets confined their attentions to Northern France until well after D-Day. The Russians never attained the same level of air superiority as did the Western Allies and rail movements in the East were relatively trouble free. It is worth remembering that the rail networks of Europe were far more extensive in 1945 than they are today.

In conclusion, not only was the Holocaust feasible on its reported scale but it really happened. Mr MacEachan contends his arbitrary figures between one and one and a half million is realistic. I disagree. The facts I have quoted are grim enough but the overriding point is this: why would anyone make up the figure of six million? Why do Mr MacEachan's 'certain people feel the need to exaggerate?' I agree the precise figure will never be known but to suggest that it isoverstated by a factor of four is a gross insult to the memory of those who died and to the much smaller number which survived.