The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Deceit & Misrepresentation
The Techniques of Holocaust Denial

Friedrich Berg
& the Diesel Issue
Part 2 of 2

Although Berg says it's very difficult to tinker with the engine to produce high CO levels, the same technical papers he quotes in his own paper show that the authors were able to produce CO levels up to 6% by adjusting the fuel system. It may also have been possible to block the air intake to alter the fuel/air mixture. Berg cannot escape the fact that if the authors of his own references were able to produce lethal exhaust from a diesel, so would an SS technician.

In Prattle et al, for instance, we find this simple observation: "Two series of experiments were performed. In each set eight rabbits, 20 guinea-pigs, and 80 mice were placed at random into four batches. Each batch was exposed in the chamber to undiluted diesel fumes for five hours or until all the animals were dead." (Prattle, et al, "The Toxicity of Fumes From a Diesel Engine Under Four Different Running Conditions," British Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1957, 14, 47)

Still, due to the testimony about the blue color of the bodies, the one crucial point on which Berg may very well be correct is that contrary to popular belief, the people who died in chambers fed by diesel engines didn't die of acute CO poisoning. From this he would like people to believe that if they didn't die from that cause, as commonly believed, the whole story must be a hoax.

However, there are many separate pieces of evidence all pointing to the conclusion that hundreds of thousands of people entered the camps of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec and never emerged alive. There are records of rail shipments of people going in, and large quantities of clothing - but not people - going out. There are reports from the Polish resistance corroborating this. There are large quantities of bones. There are testimonies from the few survivors as well as many guards in the camp. To this day only two of the approximately 600,000 people sent to the camp of Belzec have ever been found alive.

So if Berg is correct that the victims did not die of carbon monoxide if gassed with diesels, how did they die? Unfortunately, since the camps were destroyed before the end of the war, and the gas chambers and engines with them, it is not possible to reconstruct precisely what happened. Nevertheless, it is possible to work out the possibilities and determine the general cause of death, if not the precise combination of causes. Actually, Berg had the answer all along, but refused to see it - or pretended not to. They probably did die of some form of asphyxiation, with other contributing factors.

How can this be, if Berg "proved" that there is too much oxygen in diesel exhaust for this to be possible? There are a number of significant items Berg overlooks. First, diesels also produce fairly high levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) compounds, which are also toxic. Berg only discussed the long-term carcinogenic potential of these chemicals, but in sufficient concentration they have short-term toxic effects as well - 250 to 500 ppm of NO2 or N2O4 is "rapidly fatal" all by itself [3].

While there is no way of telling if the levels were this high in the diesel gas chambers, as there are many variables involved, Berg's own principal source on diesel exhaust composition gives NOx emissions as high as 690 ppm in one test - depending on the precise distribution of compounds, possibly a lethal dose within the allotted time even without the additional considerations given below. [4]

Many test run results from the paper are in the 267-448 ppm range - a significant contributing factor, even if not the sole cause of death. Interestingly, the highest concentrations were achieved at a fuel-air ratio of just under 0.03 and an engine speed of 600 RPM - a significant fact given Berg's insistence that only at higher fuel-air ratios does diesel exhaust become sufficiently toxic to kill in the half hour reported by witnesses.

Second, the people in the chambers would have an elevated respiratory rate due to panic, the exertion of being run into the chambers, and high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), and thus would have consumed the available oxygen more quickly. This aspect cannot be ignored.

Third, and most importantly, the chambers were described by the witnesses as having a low ceiling, and the people were packed into the chambers as tightly as possible. This means that there was not much air per person to start with. As the diesel pumped in exhaust gas relatively poor in oxygen, high in CO2, soot, NOx (and if, unlike the fuel in the Holtz-Elliot paper, the Nazis used high-sulphur diesel fuel, there would also be sulphur dioxide, another toxin), the people would both take in the toxins and use up the available air (and load the chamber with even more carbon dioxide, causing more rapid breathing, a vicious cycle).

This can be done without any tampering with the engine. However, by adjusting the fuel flow, or partially blocking the air intake, an even less oxygenated exhaust can be produced. (Again, it is not certain that this was done, but it was entirely possible.)

Thus it is possible to generate lethal conditions using diesel engines, although there is not much margin for error. And indeed, testimony indicates that sometimes it was discovered that the process did not produce death in everyone, and bullets to the back of the head had to be administered from time to time. Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, testified that on a trip to Chelmno, where there were gassing vans, sometimes the exhaust buildup was not sufficient for killing.

What about the argument that this was not efficient? This argument first of all assumes that the people choosing the diesel engines were as technically sophisticated as Berg himself. Few people know that diesels don't produce just as much carbon monoxide as gasoline engines. If they hooked it up and it worked, that was all that mattered.

The producer gas vehicles certainly would have worked better, but there were two problems with them. First, the level of CO was so high that it was potentially explosive (a point Berg made in one of his own Usenet articles cited in the appendix, yet failed to see the significance of). Second, the vehicles had a more important use - as vehicles. The diesel engine came from a captured Soviet tank. There were thousands of them littering the countryside, most of them completely unusable because the Germans didn't have the facilities to repair them. Thus when the economic considerations are examined, not just the technical, the use of the diesels makes more sense.

What about the argument that the people would have died of asphyxiation if just put into an airtight chamber? This argument trades on the myth that all Nazis were sadistic monsters. They were killers, yes, but they did not have a policy of causing maximum suffering. The attempt to use carbon monoxide was in order to have a relatively humane execution. This was important for the morale of the SS men, as their experience with mass shooting in occupied Russia proved.

The use of diesels to run gas chambers was not the best technical means, but it could (and, as the eyewitnesses testified, did) work. Eventually, at Auschwitz, a better method was found, and the diesels were abandoned.

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