Holocaust-denial thrives on contradiction. Because it has no thesis of its own, striving merely to cast doubt upon the status quo, it is replete with anecdotes about trivial details which supposedly prove that someone is lying. Or just that something fishy is going on. These details can never be simple mistakes, but must invariably be part of a vast web of deceit; thus, any error in a document exposes that entire document as a forgery or a pack of lies.
Such is the case for the testimony of Rudolf Höß.
Höß (also spelled "Hoess") has long been attacked by deniers as totally untrustworthy. One of their most enduring claims has been based on his referencing the Operation Reinhard camps by the names of Belzec, Treblinka, and Wolzek. To be precise, his statement included this comment:
There are two errors in the above quote. The first is the date: Höß said 1941 when he meant 1942. 
The second error is that the last camp named, "Wolzek," does not exist, and never existed. And from this apparent contradiction, deniers rush to conclusions. The conclusion they prefer is that Höß was tortured, and that his whole confession, and his testimony, indeed everything Höß ever said or wrote, is wrong.
The Institute for Historical Review concludes:
Ernst Zundel's "Zundelsite" claims:
David Irving makes the camp the subject of a pointed question in a letter to noted historian Robert-Jan Van Pelt:
We shall return to the Sobibor explanation in a moment.
Most outlandish of all is the claim of the denier Robert Faurisson. To even understand Faurisson's accusation, we must take a moment to examine Höß's situation in a little more detail.
Höß went into hiding and was discovered only in 1946. He was not tried at Nuremberg, but rather called to testify as a witness (for the defense, as it happened). His mention of the supposed "Wolzek" camp came during the Nuremberg process.
Later, Höß was himself tried, was convicted, and was sentenced to be hanged. As he sat in a Polish cell waiting for that sentence to be carried out, he wrote his memoirs. Those memoirs contain confirmation of all the essential facts of his previous confession, interrogation, and testimony at Nuremberg. Furthermore, they are written in a frank and open manner which was clearly not the result of coercion. For example, he insults Poles and Ukrainians, and complains that he was beaten at his arrest prior to being incarcerated at Nuremberg.
Faurisson's explanation of the revealing memoirs is that Höß was allowed to write honestly about being beaten during his earlier confinement - but for a surprising reason:
In Faurisson's view, it is entirely possible that Höß was allowed, maybe encouraged  to write about his rough treatment - but not out of charity or respect for truth. Rather, the conspirators who engineered the hoax of the Holocaust knew that his accusations would allow future historians to explain away the Wolzek contradiction!
Fortunately, an explanation that requires much less mental contortion is readily available. Not only was Höß not tortured into inventing "Wolzek" and then forced to write about that torture to unvex future historians, Höß was not tortured into inventing "Wolzek" in the first place. Because "Wolzek" is not an invention.
And all one has to do is look at a map.
Before Höß gave his statement to the court, quoted above, he was interrogated at length, over two days. The transcript of those interrogations is published in The Holocaust: Selected Documents in Eighteen Volumes, John Mendelson, Ed., 1982, Vol. 12, pp. 56-127.
On p. 75, we see Höß's answers during the interrogation, which of course took place before his court statement. He was asked:
His response was - and this is verbatim, including the spelling mistake of the court reporter:
Note that, despite being explicitly asked for the names of all three, Höß can only come up with two. "Treblinka" is spelled correctly by the transcriber. "Belzak" is Belzec. The missing camp, whose name Höß has forgotten, is - as van Pelt has already pointed out - Sobibor.
Does Sobibor's location fit with the one detail Höß gives? He claims it is 40 km "past Kulm in an easterly direction." The town of Chelm (Kulm, in the German spelling) is bisected by a railway line that runs west toward Lublin and east into the Soviet Union. Forty kilometers east of Chelm is nothing in particular, or at least no known death camps.
But he did not say it was due east; he said "in an easterly direction." Coming out of the town, near the city limits, a railway splits off and heads northeast. Exactly forty kilometers as travelled by rail lies the death camp Sobibor: 
Höß, though he forgot the name and later gave the wrong name, did have an idea of where the third camp was. His directions were not perfect, but then he was not asked to give directions.
The deniers' explanation is that this made-up camp "Wolzek" was invented out of nothing, because Höß was simply tortured into confessing to things which did not exist.
But the paradox is resolved by reading the interrogation transcript and looking at the map. The camp was there. It was not invented, just misnamed.
The reader may judge which rival hypothesis best fits the facts:
The choice is obvious.
Why do Holocaust-deniers rush to embrace the wrong choice? The answer is left as an exercise for the reader.
And why did Höß think the camp was named "Wolzek"? That's a mystery whose answer may never be known. But considering that his job was to run the Auschwitz camp, three hundred kilometers away; that the extermination program was always kept under strictest secrecy; and that the surrounding territory had been conquered and thus bore names in both his native tongue and Polish: a misunderstanding is surely not out of the question.
For a humorous example of this, one may turn to the historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, whose work in debunking Holocaust-denial is exemplary. He writes:
It seems that place names in foreign languages are tricky for anyone. Who has made this error? It happens to be the "grandfather of revisionism" himself:
Not even the most dedicated Holocaust-denier would suggest that their colleague Rassinier was tortured into writing a book.
Thanks go to Michael Stein for the inspiration for this essay, and to Harry Mazal for research assistance.
Last modified: May 18, 2001