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The Holocaust History Project.

The 'Wolzek' Paradox.


Jamie McCarthy

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:

The "final solution" of the Jewish question meant the complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. I was ordered to establish extermination facilities at Auschwitz in June 1941. At that time, there were already in the General Government three other extermination camps: Belzek, Treblinka, and Wolzek. [1]

There are two errors in the above quote. The first is the date: Höß said 1941 when he meant 1942. [2]

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:

[Hoess' confession] is actually a false statement that was obtained by torture. [...]

The Höss "affidavit" further alleges that Jews were already being exterminated by gas in the summer of 1941 at three other camps: Belzec, Treblinka and Wolzek. The "Wolzek" camp mentioned by Höss is a total invention. No such camp existed, and the name is no longer mentioned in Holocaust literature. [3]

Ernst Zundel's "Zundelsite" claims:

It is common knowledge that Hoess was severely tortured in order to obtain his "confession" and to make him write his "memoirs". I have discussed this elsewhere. As a result of the torture, Hoess came up with amazing details, such as a nonexistent camp "Wolzek", as well as other things which could not have possibly been taking place. [4]

David Irving makes the camp the subject of a pointed question in a letter to noted historian Robert-Jan Van Pelt:

What incidentally is your authority for confidently equating Höss's mysterious location "Wolzek" with "[Sobibor]" (page 279); as you know, Höss's "Wolzek" has long intrigued revisionists. [5]

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 his memoirs Hoess recounts the circumstances of his arrest and what followed. The treatment that he underwent was particularly brutal. At first sight it is surprising that the Poles allowed Hoess to make the revelations he did about the British military police. On reflection, we discover that they might have done so out of one or more of the following motives:


to furnish an explanation for certain absurdities contained in the text (NO-1210) that the British police had had Hoess sign, one of these absurdities being the invention of an "extermination camp" in a place which never existed on any Polish map: "Wolzek near Lublin"; confusion with Belzec is not possible since Hoess talks about three camps: "Belzek (sic), Tublinka (sic) and Wolzek near Lublin." [6]

In Faurisson's view, it is entirely possible that Höß was allowed, maybe encouraged [7] 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:

Q. What were these extermination camps? Where were they, and what were their names?

His response was - and this is verbatim, including the spelling mistake of the court reporter:

A. There were three camps: first Treblinka, Belzak near Lemberg and the third one was 40 kilometers in the direction of Kulm. It was past Kulm in an easterly direction.

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: [8]

Map of Lublin, Chelm, and 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:

  • Höß was inventing details under torture and just happened to place a fictitious death camp in exactly the same location as the real, omitted Reinhard death camp, or

  • he just got its name wrong.

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:

Here is an example of a confusion at least as serious as the error of "Wolzek." A French author, speaking precisely of Hoess, tells us (p. 43) that he was incarcerated at the prison in "Krakau," and on the next page, places him in "Cracovie." But Krakau is the German name of the city called Cracovie in French.

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:

The author is Rassinier in his book Le drame des Juifs européens. [9]

Not even the most dedicated Holocaust-denier would suggest that their colleague Rassinier was tortured into writing a book.


  1. Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal (the "blue series"). The text appears at Vol. XI, p. 416, and Vol. XXXIII, p. 277 (Document 3868-PS, Exhibit USA-819).

    It was read in open court, paragraph by paragraph, with Höß on the witness stand, on April 15. His time on the stand stretches from p. 396 to p. 422 of Vol. XI of the American edition of the blue series, with the Wolzek quote appearing on p. 416. THHP has the Höß examination online, but it's scanned from the British edition of the blue series, where the examination stretches from p. 347 to p. 364, with the Wolzek quote on p. 360. (The American and British editions' main differences are in punctuation and layout.)

  2. Historians agree that Höß simply confused the year here.

    It is interesting to note that Höß, in his pretrial interrogation, first guesses July 1941 for the date (pp. 17-19 in the interrogation transcript, 72-74 in Mendelsohn op. cit.). Then he asserts, twice (p. 19/74), that it was before the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). Shortly thereafter (p. 20/75), he has Himmler explaining that the existing extermination camps were overtaxed, though construction on those camps did not begin until November 1941. His recollection that the invasion had not yet begun must have been wrong, if for no other reason than the fact that, pre-invasion, the Soviets occupied those patches of soil. So clearly, Höß had a poor memory for chronology.

    A good chronology of the murder installations in Auschwitz, which stands primarily on the documentary evidence irrespective of Höß's recollections, is given in "The Machinery of Mass Murder at Auschwitz," Jean-Claude Pressac with Robert-Jan van Pelt, in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, edited by Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, 1994, pp. 213ff.

    Similarly, a good chronology of the Reinhard camps, based on documentary and testimonial evidence, is in Nazi Mass Murder, edited by Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, and Adalbert Rückerl, 1993, pp. 102ff.

  3. Institute for Historical Review leaflet "Auschwitz: Myths and Facts", http://www.ihr.org/leaflets/auschwitz.html.

  4. Zundelsite, "Nizkor Rebuttal #41", http://www.zundelsite.org/english/debate/041_jam.html.

  5. David Irving, "Challenging the Experts", http://www.fpp.co.uk/Auschwitz/Pelt/query290597.html.

  6. Robert Faurisson, "How the British Obtained the Confessions of Rudolf Hoess," Journal of Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 4, http://abbc.com/islam/english/revision/hoess.htm.

    Höß was beaten and otherwise treated badly during his imprisonment at the hands of his British captors. When he was turned over to the IMT in Nuremberg, by comparison it was - to use his words - "like staying in a health spa" (Hoss, Death Dealer, Paskuly, Ed., 1992, p. 180). Bizarrely, from this, deniers conclude that his Nuremberg testimony was extracted by torture.

    In any case, it is quite clear that the memoirs were not, in fact, written under duress. One specific reason is the death figure which Höß gives: 1.1 million. This figure was contrary to all prevailing opinion at the time - and it was right.

    Regarding Faurisson's quote of "Wolzek near Lublin," which I have been unable to verify: if this was indeed something Höß said, it is consistent with the explanation of Wolzek really being Sobibor. As Mike Stein has pointed out, his interrogation (quoted above), includes a reference to "Belzak [Belzec] near Lemberg [Lvov]." Belzec is not much "near"er to Lvov than Sobibor to Lublin: roughly 70 km and 80 km by my measurement.

  7. Faurisson was a witness at the 1988 trial of Ernst Zundel, where he answered questions about the Hoess memoirs. Does he believe Höß was forced to write about his poor treatment at the hands of the British? Here are two denier versions of this episode, the first from Lenski, Robert, The Holocaust On Trial, 1990, p. 341:

    Pearson asked if Faurisson was calling the autobiography a "forgery," and the latter replied, "I say that this has been written under the control of his Polish Communist captors."

    The chapter on the gas chambers is "totally preposterous," said Faurisson.

    Pearson: You don't like the chapter on the gas chambers, but you do like the chapter where he says he was mistreated by the British, so you accept that?

    "No," said Faurisson. "As everything has been done under the control of the Poles, I am interested by the fact that he said that."

    The second from Kulazska, Barbara, Did Six Million Really Die?, available on the Zundelsite at http://www.zundelsite.org/english/dsmrd/dsmrdtoc.html:

    The Hoess autobiography, said Faurisson, had been written under the control of his Polish Communist captors [...]

    Faurisson was interested in the fact that the autobiography, written under the control of the Poles, alleged that Hoess had been tortured by the British. But Faurisson emphasized that he did not know whether Hoess even wrote the autobiography: [...]

  8. The map is scanned from Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa: Mapa administracyjna ("Polish Peoples Republic: Administrative Map"), produced by the Panstwowe Przedsiebiorstwo Wydawnictw Kartograficznych ("State Map Publishing Enterprise") in 1958, H. Cytowski, Editor. This was the most-nearly contemporaneous map I could find which showed railroads in detail.

    For completeness' sake: in my judgement, there is no possibility that the railway line shown was built between the years 1942 and 1958. There must have been a wartime railway that delivered condemned people to Sobibor. There is no northern connection shown (the line dead-ends near Wlodowa, just north of Sobibor), so the rail line on the map must have been the one used to transport victims to the camp.

    As measured by my ruler and eye, and the map's legend (not scanned), 40 km down the rail line from Sobibor would place the traveller exactly in the middle of Chelm. The skeptical reader may judge the scale using any two landmarks, of course.

  9. Pierre Vidal-Naquet, A Paper Eichmann - Anatomy of a Lie, 1980, http://www.anti-rev.org/textes/VidalNaquet92a/part-5.html.

Thanks go to Michael Stein for the inspiration for this essay, and to Harry Mazal for research assistance.


Last modified: May 18, 2001
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