clothcap (clothcap) wrote,

Why has the British Intelligence Service been so reticent with this information?

“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.

The decoded messages enabled the compilation of very exact statistics. The radio messages from 28 October 1942 – taking a single day at random – reveal, for example, that Auschwitz Concentration Camp contained a total, all told, of 25,298 inmates: 18,754 men and 6,544 women; including 10,755 Jews, 8,822 Poles, 1,369 Russians and 1,578 Germans. It was also learned that there were exactly 787 Zugänge and 168 Abgänge on 28 July 1942; Zugänge referred to the arrival of new inmates; Abgänge referred to deaths, executions, releases and inmates transferred to other camps.

These daily radio messages also contained additional information related to Auschwitz. Thus, it was reported, for example, that Jewish watchmakers were being transferred to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp; that Polish workers could only be sent elsewhere [verschickt] after release from quarantine; that British POWs were considered to be urgently needed to work as kapos; and that efforts were being made to locate a successor to the then-acting garrison doctor by September 1942.

With regard to the Holocaust, the Abgänge were naturally of particular interest. In actual fact, the monthly number of Abgänge in the year 1942 fluctuated in an unusual manner. While the number of Abgänge normally amounted to approximately 2,000 inmates per month, there was a great increase in these figures in July, August, September and October. For example, 8,352 Abgänge were reported for the month of August 1942.

As is readily apparent from the radio messages, this unusually high number of Abgänge was due to a typhus epidemic at Auschwitz. 6 Typhus, sometimes also known as “camp fever” is, as is well known, transmitted by fleas and lice; under poor hygienic circumstances it will inevitably appear in almost any such  camp. According to the decoded radio messages, it took the Auschwitz authorities approximately four months to bring the epidemic under control. The numbers only fell back down to the average figure of approximately 2,000 Abgänge per month in November and December 1942.

Dr. Eduard Wirths

Dr. Eduard Wirths, Chief SS doctor (SS-Standortarzt) at the Auschwitz concentration camp from September 1942 to January 1945. Wirths is third from right in front row
By Jesse Hofseth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, as mentioned above, had requested a successor to their current on-duty garrison physician in August 1942. This successor, who took over in his official capacity on 6 September 1942, was Dr. Eduard Wirths. In his notes, Wirths left a vivid report on conditions in Auschwitz at that time: 7

I found inconceivable inmate conditions. There was no running water, no working toilets, no way to bathe. The barracks lodging the prisoners were overfilled and there was a shortage of beds. There were masses of lice all over the floors, clothing and inmates' bodies. The walls were black with fleas. The condition of the inmates was simply unbelievable, emaciated to their very bones, devoured by vermin, with dead bodies lying around between living inmates. Hundreds of dying inmates were taken away, but sometimes they lay around among the living for days.

It was obvious that the epidemic would spread to the guard personnel as well. The Bletchley Park intercepts reported, for example, that, on 4 September “the entire camp was subjected to quarantine” 8  and “in October, 11 SS-Men were hospitalized with suspected typhus.”9

Wirths succeeded temporarily in bringing the epidemic under control by building additional barracks, infirmaries, installing additional drains and water pipes, latrines and targeted use of measures intended to combat infection:

Through the chamber of physicians [Ärztekammer], we applied for permission to distribute white bread and milk. Instead of polluted drinking water, I took care to distribute drinks such as coffee and tea. I ordered the organization of field kitchens for working inmates, due to the great distances between the worksites and their living quarters and commissaries, which meant that otherwise the workers would get no hot food all day. When the construction of field kitchens was impracticable, I had hot food delivered to the work sites by vehicle. I requested permission to allow recovering inmates to gather wild vegetables, medicinal herbs. At the same time, I wanted Jewish women confined by the camp administration to be able to move about in the open. I requested rest for physically weakened inmates, even the construction of entire rest departments. 10

Dr. Wirths’s struggle against the epidemics must have been a real labor of Sisyphus. Obviously, fresh cases of typhus arrived in the camp with each new rail transport. Thus, on 28 January 1943, Bletchley Park issued a report to the effect that "there were 36 cases of typhus among the inmates arriving on 22 January.” 11

In the summer of 1942, the first Polish and Jewish reports appeared 12 alleging the commission of mass murder on an industrial scale in Auschwitz. According to these reports, 2,000 inmates were being killed in gas chambers every day. Since the number of Abgänge reported amounted to approximately 2,000 inmates per month, and not 2,000 inmates per day, the British Intelligence Service rejected these reports as war propaganda. Thus, the president of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, on 27 August 1943, wrote that the reports from Poles and Jews were devoid of all basis in fact: 13


Be careful with what you air in public. The truth may get you banged up by the zio-freemason justice system. Or worse.

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