“The Enemy Is Listening!”
What Did the British Intelligence Service Know about the Holocaust?
Christoph M. Wieland
Translated from German by Carlos W. Porter
In his book, The Ultra Secret, 1 published in 1974, author Frederick W. Winterbotham revealed, for the first time, that the British Intelligence Service was able to eavesdrop on almost all German military radio communications from a very early date, shortly after the outbreak of World War II. As a captain in the Royal Air Force and officer of the Military Intelligence Service, Winterbotham supervised the work of the Government Code & Cipher School in Bletchley Park, where cryptanalysts cracked the "Enigma" code used in German cipher machines to scramble messages transmitted by the German army, navy and air force.
Seven more years were fated to pass by before the public was permitted to learn that Bletchley Park personnel were capable of far more than simply reading written German military messages. In 1981, cryptanalyst Francis H. Hinsley published the second volume of his book British Intelligence in the Second World War. 2 Hinsley's book revealed that the British Intelligence Service also eavesdropped on radio signals transmitted by the German police, SD and SS. This enabled the British to obtain not only reliable information on events behind the Russian Front, but on events in the German concentration camps as well.
On 19 May 1997, the British government transferred the decoded documents in Bletchley Park to the Public Records Office in London, thereby making them accessible to the public for research purposes. 3 Oddly, only a very few Holocaust historians were interested in the information on the concentration camps. The reason for this astonishing lack of interest is presumably due to the following remark by author Hinsley:
The messages from Auschwitz, the largest camp, with 20,000 inmates, 4 mention disease as the chief cause of death, but also include references to executions by hanging and shooting. The decoded messages contain no references to gassings. 5
The present article is intended to summarize the information obtained at Bletchley Park on events in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Despite Hinsley's unambiguous statement, British Intelligence Service information continues to give rise to a multiplicity of interpretations and speculation, just as before. At the same time, the question of what the British "knew about the Holocaust" always takes priority over everything else.
As shown by the Bletchley Park documents, the commandant of Auschwitz had to file a report every single day. With the exception of Sunday, these messages consisted of daily reports on population [Bestand], arrivals [Zugänge], and departures [Abgänge] from the concentration camps. For over thirteen months, from January 1942 to January 1943, the British Intelligence Service followed up and decoded these reports from Auschwitz Concentration Camp to the SS Head Business Administration Office [SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt] in Oranienburg.( Collapse )