C.S. Bendel and ceiling height (reply to an argument advanced by ‘Hans’)

The Auschwitz gassing witness C.S. Bendel, as is well known, is completely discredited by, among other things, his absurd mischaracterization of the dimensions of the alleged gas chambers, and in particular of the ceiling height, which Bendel claimed was only 1.5 or 1.6 meters. This problem with Bendel’s testimony is not merely numerical. Even if one assumes that Bendel simply had no head for figures and therefore disregards all numbers that he gives, his qualitative description of the ceiling height remains. At both the Belsen and Tesch trials, as well as in his testimony in the book Témoignages sur Auschwitz , Bendel described the gas chamber ceiling as being (subjectively) extremely low, so low as to cause a sort of claustrophobia. This was not the case with the structures alleged to have been gas chambers. Therefore Bendel never saw the inside of these structures, and is a fraudulent witness.

The holocaust controversies blogger going under the pseudonym ‘Hans’ has attempted to salvage the Bendel testimony, arguing that the correct ceiling height given in Bendel’s Tesch trial testimony is 1.70 meters, and insinuating that Carlo Mattogno was dishonest in giving the figure 1.6 meters. In a more recent analysis of Bendel, he has corrected this height to “about” 1.7 meters. Using this higher figure for ceiling height, he tries to minimize the seriousness of this problem with Bendel’s testimony. This line of argument was already put forth in this thread by Sergey Romanov in 2004.

Let’s examine what the trial transcript has to say. During Bendel’s testimony, he gives – according to the transcript – the ceiling height as 5’8”. (Where Hans got the figure 1.70 meters from his earlier post is unclear.) On cross examination, Tesch’s attorney Dr. Zippel stated that Bendel had given the height as 1.6 meters, and Bendel said that this was correct. What to make of this? Let’s look at the exact words used. First, on direct examination:

Q. How high was the room in relation to an ordinary person?
A. You had the impression that the roof is falling on your head; it was about 5ft.8ins.

Note that the question was made with reference to the height of an ordinary person; i.e. the question was mainly qualitative. Bendel answers by emphasizing how low it was, and then gives a height, which unaccountably is in feet and inches. All of Bendel’s other measurements were given in meters: giving the height 5’8” is the only time during the Tesch trial that Bendel uses imperial rather than metric units, and during the Belsen trial Bendel gave all his lengths in meters.

The cross examination of Bendel began with the following exchange:

Q. You have said that the gas chambers were ten metres by four metres by one meter sixty centimetres: is that correct?
A. Yes.

Thus, Bendel is on record during the Tesch trial as giving two different gas chamber heights, 1.6 meters and 5’8”. Hans’ analysis assumes that Bendel really did say 5’8” but somehow agreed with the figure 1.6 meters by mistake. This, however, is implausible. Bendel gave all of his other measurements in meters. Why would he suddenly switch into feet and inches when giving the ceiling height, and if for some unaccountable reason he did make a special point of giving this particular figure in feet and inches rather than meters, why did he agree with Zippel’s statement that he had said 1.6 meters? Evidently Bendel, testifying in French, gave the ceiling height in meters; what appears in the transcript is a translation and conversion. The British, of course, were more familiar with imperial units than with metric. As Bendel made a big deal out of the markedly low gas chamber ceiling, the British would have wanted to have this particular figure converted, whereas the length and width of the gas chamber and cremation pits did not have such significance and did not require conversion. At any rate, this is how it appears in Judge Advocate Stirling’s notes on Bendel’s testimony.[1] Furthermore, 5’8” is not a conversion of any round figure in metric units (it’s around 1.727 meters). Clearly Bendel would not have given such an uneven and overly precise height, and from this we can conclude that the conversion is inaccurate. It’s easy to guess what might have happened: either the translator wanted to be helpful and give this key figure in familiar units, or perhaps he was presented with an unexpected request to render a metric figure into imperial units and flubbed the conversion. As for the error, it could could be a simple mistake in reckoning, coming from a man not too well versed in the metric system or in mental arithmetic, but it might equally well be an attempt to help correct the witness. That is, Bendel had already given a qualitative description of the room “in relation to an ordinary person” as giving “the impression that the roof is falling on your head.” Major Forest, the interpreter, may have realized that Bendel’s figure of 1.6 meters was much too low, and wished to help the witness a little by boosting the hight while converting in order to make it fit with the claim that it would give an “ordinary person” – or Bendel himself – “the impression that the roof is falling on your head.”

Having read the full transcript of the trial, I can add another strong reason to believe that Zippel had the height correct, namely that the prosecutor Gerald Draper was very free in interrupting the defence with an objection if at any point he thought they had misrepresented anything, or unduly criticized a witness. Even if he (uncharacteristically) decided not to interrupt, he could still have made the correction during re-direct examination. Instead, he put no questions whatsoever to Bendel on re-direct. Having read enough trial material to know Draper’s courtroom manner, it’s absolutely clear that he would never have let it slide if Zippel had indeed misrepresented Bendel’s statement.

Thus far we have not mentioned Bendel’s statement of October 21, 1945, but now is the time to bring it into the picture. In that statement, Bendel gives the dimensions of the gas chambers as 10x5x1.5 and 6x3x1.5 meters, respectively. (Two copies of the statement, which was taken for the sake of the Tesch trial, can be found in said trial’s investigation files.) It’s apparent that Zippel also had a copy of this statement, as he mentions the volume of 27 cubic meters (6x3x1.5) for the smaller gas chambers in his appeal. In this same appeal, he also mentions the same volume of 64 cubic meters (10x4x1.6) which was given during Bendel’s cross-examination. Note that this does not agree with Bendel’s statement, which gave the dimensions as 10x5x1.5. Thus Zippel was again taking his dimensions from Bendel’s statement at the trial. Had Bendel really said 5’8” at the trial, then Zippel, who took great care with his appeal and was evidently a conscientious man, would have had plenty of time to correct his error, and certainly would have done so, as the argument he was making would not have been weakened to any significant degree by making the correction. Zippel’s confidence in his figure, and the fact that he was not corrected on this point, are evidently the result of the fact that Bendel did in fact give the ceiling height as 1.6 meters during the Tesch trial.

[1] Private Papers of C L Stirling OBE CBE QC, IWM Document 17014, box 09-44-2

Further remarks on Hans’ arguments

Hans goes on at length about Bendel’s testimony, and this post will make no attempt at a point for point reply, being focused on the ceiling height issue with particular reference to Bendel’s testimony at the Tesch trial. We will, however, use the occasion to make some general remarks concerning methodology, and to correct one of Hans’ most egregious errors.

In his attempt to bolster Bendel’s testimony, Hans relies on enumerating aspects of Bendel’s testimony which are (or which he believes to be) accurate, or on which Bendel agrees with another witness. This is a natural method for an apologist seeking to defend a truth rooted in faith, but not adequate for the treatment of historical testimony. Consider the Christian apologists who compose long lists of historically accurate details in the gospels or the book of acts, or publish books pointing to aspects of these texts which are demonstrably historically accurate, and brushing aside contradictions as merely “apparent”. Such things are well and good, and may contribute to the debate concerning these texts, but even hundreds of arguments like “this New Testament text transmits accurate information about the harbor of such-and-such city” do little to convince us that the text in question is historically accurate when it declares that Jesus cast out demons. Employing this style of argument, Hans sounds like the apologist who observed that

Dismissing the miracles documented in the New Testament is a favorite pastime of many skeptics, and even some liberal-thinking religious leaders. However, this “dismissal” game gets extremely complicated because the miracles are so closely blended with historical facts that separating the two soon becomes like trying to separate two different colors of Play-Doh

and promised that the open-minded reader will eventually accept the authors of the New Testament as “accurate historians”. The problem, however, is that enumerating historically accurate details of New Testament texts does very little to convince people convinced that the genre of these texts is predominantly theological that they are accurate histories. To take another example, consider a witness who claims to have been abducted by aliens. The apologist for alien-abduction stories may point out that he gives an accurate description of the place from which he claims to have been abducted, that he claims to have stayed in a hotel that really exists and accurately describes the furnishings in that hotel’s rooms, that his description of his activities before the abduction contain many accurate details concerning the city in which the alien abduction supposedly took place, that he correctly named the mayor of that city, and so forth. Yet none of this would go too far towards making someone who is skeptical towards alien-abduction stories believe this man’s claims. Likewise with Hans’ arguments. For example, Hans is impressed that “Bendel correctly identified Mengele as SS doctor […] “twins” as Mengele’s research topic”. Yet this was common knowledge, and Bendel’s knowledge of this does nothing to offer evidence for gassings. Moreover, given that he thought Bendel’s knowledge of Mengele worth mentioning in support of his reliability, Hans should explain why Bendel thought the doctor’s name was Peter Mengele.

Moving on from these general remarks on the holocaust-apologetic character of Hans’ enterprise, we turn to a critical error on Hans’ part. Hans claims that Bendel’s statement that transports sent to the gas chambers were not escorted by doctors proves that he contradicted the wishes of the prosecution:

Bendel also proved to be resistent towards manipulation and suggestive questions from the prosecution at the Belsen trial. For instance, when he was asked by the chief prosecutor Backhouse if the victims were “brought down [into the gas chamber] by one of the doctors?”, instead of providing the “correct” answer “yes” for a coached prosecution witness (as the former SS doctor Klein was accused at the trial), he simply answered:

“No. There was one S.S. in front and one at the back. That is all.”

This argument is utter nonsense. Bendel was not asked this by Backhouse, but on cross-examination by Major Cranfield. It’s unclear whether Hans thought he could get away with lying about this, or whether he simply failed to read the transcript properly. Again: this exchange took place not with the prosecution, but with the defence. This fact destroys Hans’ argument, for if the prosecution had wanted Bendel to give testimony incriminating Klein as having escorted prisoners to the gas chambers, they would have asked him about it on direct examination. They did not do so. Rather, they got Bendel to incriminate Dr. Klein in a different way:

Have you seen any SS doctors at the crematoria? – Yes.
Who? – Dr. Klein.
What have you seen him doing there? – One day when gas was brought by this Red Cross ambulance, which I mentioned before, it was Dr. Klein who comes out from the ambulance from the seat near the driver.
Is that the only time you have seen him there? – I have seen him several times.

Thus Bendel did indeed incriminate Dr. Klein as the prosecution desired, but for bringing the gas for homicidal gassing, rather than for leading people to the gas chamber. The denial which Hans points to does not in any way show a lack of compliance with the wishes of the prosecution. On the contrary, Bendel’s behavior in both the Belsen and Tesch trials show a great readiness to come to the prosecution’s aid.

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One Response to C.S. Bendel and ceiling height (reply to an argument advanced by ‘Hans’)

  1. Pingback: ‘Hans’ attempts to evade the facts on Bendel: a reply to a controversial blogger | Holocaust History Channel

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