The Historian As Detective Versus The Journalist As Investigator: Were Australian, British And New Zealand Prisoners Of War Massacred At Theresienstadt Concentration Camp In 1945? Dr. Jim Saleam October 2 2004
The Historian As Detective Versus The Journalist As Investigator:
Were Australian, British And New Zealand Prisoners Of War Massacred At Theresienstadt Concentration Camp In 1945?
Dr. Jim Saleam
October 2 2004
The Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt in the former Czechoslovakia (Terezin: while this article uses the Czech form in various places, the previous German name is generally retained), was part of the process of internment, forced labour and death which overtook European Jewry in the Second World War. (1) Theresienstadt, or more correctly, 'The Small Fortress', the Gestapo prison section of this broad institution, also had a place in Australian history as a detention centre for a number of our prisoners of war.
The illegal use of the concentration camp system to hold Allied prisoners of war could be seen largely as a response of the Nazi state to the crisis overtaking it from the summer of 1944. Repeat-escapees were increasingly handed over from military authority, to that of the SS. (2) Quite simply, as the spectre of defeat loomed for Germany, the radical Total War tendency had taken charge in this - as in other things. It was thence unremarkable that a 'rational solution' (sic) had been sought to the considerable 'wastage' of finite German resources in pursuing such escapees. The illegal detention of Australian prisoners of war was however, recognised and dealt with slowly in Australia; it was not until 1988 when a decision was made for compensation to be paid to men detained in the concentration camps. (3) The British government conceded the point some time before, in 1964, thanks in part to the intervention of Colditz escapee and Conservative parliamentarian, Airey Neave, paying compensation to their servicemen and officially recognising their singular suffering. Indeed, Neave's campaign, as a matter of course, also brought this rehabilitative finality to British survivors of The Small Fortress. (4)
The case of the Small Fortress prisoners has also acquired a darker aspect. In 1985, it was alleged in an Australian television documentary that some forty Allied prisoners - Australians, British and New Zealanders - were massacred at Theresienstadt in 1945. If this event actually occurred, it would be a major war-crime, one as repulsive as the murder of the Great Escape prisoners, and one which must therefore seriously impact upon the history of Australians at war.
Currently, the allegation stands, neither challenged nor investigated in a historical-professional manner. The onus in proving something did not occur is heavier than the reverse. There is an inertia, a resistance, a demand that the counter-case be more perfect than perfect to rebut the allegation which seems to stand by its own weight.
This article questions the evidence upon which the allegation of a massacre was based and then advances documentary and other sources, to conclude that this alleged war-crime - most happily - did not occur. Most poignantly, an unimpeachable file from the British National Archives, a silent witness previously undisturbed for fifty-nine years, proved the story palpably false – thereby too, confirming the version of an elderly Australian veteran of Theresienstadt, a man who had crusaded for twenty years as a matter of principle, for the truth.
Problems Of Historical Investigation
Australian historiography has debated the proper place of detective work in history-writing. (5) The value of a hands-on approach to uncover matters that are meant to stay in the dark has indeed produced startling results. (6) Of course, historians are 'archive rats' and there is the tendency for them to rely largely upon documentary material (even of the most revolutionary kind) and not soil their hands in sleuthing or face-to-face research. Nonetheless, historians are entitled to all tools to unearth the truth. An array of sources constitutes the framework of cogent writing. It is inevitable that after field-work in special cases, a dialectical clash with proponents of untruth becomes a consequence of the craft.
Hence the author has been compelled to deal not only with the facts themselves, but also with the means by which material has been previously presented. To use the academic terminology, I employ the ethnographic method (synthesising various sources) to determine the truth.
In this controversy, I have been doubly rigorous. This arises because some queries concerning the operation of routinised murder in the Nazi concentration camp system have been, both rightly and sometimes wrongly, pejoratively criticised as 'historical revisionism', 'Holocaust Denial' and so forth. (7) Of course, legitimate commentary can be made, and has been made, on any number of matters arising from the Holocaust experience, with hoaxes being exposed. It is particularly noted that some Jewish groups have spoken out for truth and false allegations of atrocities have been repudiated. In Australia's case too, Associate Professor Konrad Kweit formerly of the Centre For Comparative Genocide Studies at Macquarie University, has exposed as a fraud Donald Watt's book, Stoker: The Story Of An Australian Soldier Who Survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, a story (sic) of an Australian at the crematoria in Auschwitz, (8)
Thus, the inquiry into the fate of certain Allied prisoners in Theresienstadt might better be understood as an investigation into an 'ordinary' (sic) allegation concerning a garden-variety war-crime, albeit one placed against the backdrop of other tragic events.
The Journalist As Investigator: The Making Of 'Where Death Wears A Smile'
Unfortunately, the alleged crime and its supposed circumstances have become mythologised. The documentary, Where Death Wears A Smile which advanced the evidence for the massacre hypothesis, won a prize at the prestigious New York Film And Television Festival in 1985 as the best political documentary of that year. The prize was shared by Mr. Frank Heimans who was and is the producer of a number of otherwise credible and creditable documentary projects (9), and Mr. Paul Rea, a journalist formerly with the Newcastle Herald and later of other Australian publications. (10)
These two investigators had set out to examine the incredible story that Australians had been imprisoned in the concentration camps of the Third Reich. It seems that in 1975, Rea had interviewed Alexander McClelland, a survivor of The Small Fortress who had struggled to be recognised by a disbelieving Australian government as a concentration camp prisoner. Rea doggedly defended McClelland's claim of incarceration at Theresienstadt in the pages of the Newcastle Herald. (11) It would be reasonable to conclude that Rea's interest in this case sparked the idea of a documentary on this singular affair and led to a partnership with Heimans. Indeed, an agreement between Heimans and Rea on behalf of the production company with McClelland, which set out their responsibilities to him, showed a serious effort on their part to address the concerns of this survivor (who was then writing a book on his experiences) (12), such that the truth be told. The documentary took two and a half years from inception to broadcast.
With the involvement of Heimans came the interest in collateral subjects related to the Holocaust. Ultimately, the two investigators came upon the statements of Moritz Mittelmann, a former inmate of the Theresienstadt ghetto. Some three statements made by Mittelmann served as the basis for the claim that a massacre of Allied prisoners had occurred on an unspecified date in late March or early April 1945. It is unclear how they were alerted to these documents.
Mr. Jurgen Corleis, a German documentary-producer now domiciled in Sydney, assisted in the project. He stated that Heimans and Rea pursued this angle with intense energy, focusing on Stefan Rojko, a sadistic guard at The Small Fortress, as the central criminal in the murders. He made enquiries about Rojko, knew of his acquittal on this very charge, but could not gain access to the court papers. (13) It seems too, that the acquisition of the alarming Mittelmann allegation spurred an alteration in the formalities and financing of the research project, leading to prominent patrons such as Channel Seven, the Fairfax media, "thirty" Australian businessmen who subscribed substantial sums to finalise production and some members of the Jewish community. (14)
Heimans and Rea consulted with the section responsible for war crimes in the German State Prosecutor's Office in Dortmund; they interviewed state prosecutor, Hermann Weissing.
During this interview, the journalists came away with a 'statement' from Weissing to the effect that he believed a massacre - by named men - had occurred.
The dialogue, as it appeared on the documentary, has Weissing, after some introductory words, appearing to part-read from 'the' Mittelmann statement:
"The massacre of Allied POW's at the end of March or start of April 1945 is known to us. The circumstances are supposed to be as follows: One day in late in March or early in April 1945 Australian and British and New Zealand POW's who were interned in The Small Fortress Theresienstadt, were taken to the construction site of an anti-tank ditch by an SS platoon leader. Referring to International Law and Conventions, they refused to work. Upon this, Jockel together with Rojko are said to have killed three POWs on the spot. The others still refused to work on the ditch. Then the guards Burian and Wackholz then fired on the POWs from behind, killing a certain number. The exact number is not known. The figure of forty could very well be correct."
Immediately following this statement, there was a question and answer:
Q: "Are you quite satisfied that this murder did take place?"
A: "I am quite certain that this incident did take place." (15)
That was enough. The Mittelmann allegation was lent the authority of the German war crimes office. There was some corroboration from another survivor, Walter Steilberg (Steilberg said he witnessed a massacre in an anti-tank ditch, as discussed below). (16) A case was made out for the massacre of forty Allied prisoners of war. It was sensational and it would hardly be surprising it if it is regarded by casual students of the history of the concentration camps - as a fact.
What is clear now is that a documentary meant to highlight a generally unknown aspect of Australia's military history, namely imprisonment of our prisoners of war in the concentration camps (it did achieve that), became an exercise to 'Australianise the Holocaust'. It thereby created shocking "entertainment". (17) It may be permissible in journalism to dramatise anything, including the Holocaust, whatever the moral objections to this course; but drama of any sort is not history. Indeed, Rea 'warned' in a private letter in 1982 (most likely before the discovery of Mittelmann):
"I'd be less than honest, Mrs. Sutton-Shaw, if I didn't tell you that part of my motive in tackling this project is to get personal credit in the film world. It is, after all, a darn good story and treated in the right way will make compelling viewing. It might just do some good too!" (18)
It is neither the purpose here to impugn the character of the journalists, Heimans and Rea, nor to put their work on par with fiction. Rather it is to confront the evidence adduced in support of the massacre allegation. If caustic comments must be made about the quality of the evidence, its' broadcast and the subsequent defence of the claim - then this is unavoidable. The Gordian Knot must be cut.
An Analysis Of The Mittelmann Statements
The original evidence for the existence of the massacre was one witness, Mr. Moritz Mittelmann. The German State Prosecutor's office in Nordheim-Westfalen, covering the 'Bearbeitung von nationalsozialistischen Massenverbrechen' has confirmed in recent correspondence with the author that the massacre matter was reinvestigated in the years 1993 - 1997, "in the framework of our investigation 45 Js 2/79". The alleged war-crime was "reported by only one witness, Moritz Mittelmann". "All other witnesses have no recollection". A 2003 letter to McClelland was couched in very similar terms: "The killing … was experienced or observed only by the witness Moritz Mittlemann. The statements of the witness … made it necessary to record and list this alleged shooting of the prisoners of war. … we check if the act can be attributed to any still living suspect and also if it is provable. In my opinion it is not provable in this case. According to the evidence provided as the basis for judgment, only Moritz Mittelmann described the act of shooting … no other witnesses reported it. This is furthermore supported by new findings resulting from fresh enquiries in the years 1993 - 1997." (19) I understand from other trace material that these enquiries related to other guards at The Small Fortress who had hitherto escaped trial.
Reasonably, the German State Prosecutor was saying that other witnesses of Nazi crime at Theresienstadt knew nothing of this supposed massacre. On the face of the German statement we may conclude this agency was dismissive of the claim. The response indicates that their confidential investigation produced no corroborative evidence.
Nothing concrete is currently available about Mittelmann. It seems that he surfaced first in the trial of Small Fortress guard, Stefan Rojko, held in Austria in 1963. A statement was produced in 1961. It was part of the Austrian brief and ultimately made its way to the German war crimes investigators. In 1963, the Austrian court in Graz acquitted Rojko of the massacre charges, a crucial matter to which I will return. In 1973, and obviously for German consumption, a further statement was provided and in 1981, yet another. (20) The first statement was tested in court. It is hardly unfair comment to argue that real caution should have been exercised by the journalists in weighing material engendered during the communist period in Czechoslovakia. This would have been mandatory in the light of the Rojko acquittal. Certainly, Where Death Wears A Smile showed no incredulity in reinstating Mittelmann's charge. We can only wonder why this course was followed.
As the War Crimes Trials showed, considerable weight was attached to statement and affidavit evidence and the right of cross-examination was limited. In one sense only, the contemporary European justice systems operate in a similar mode, in that heavy reliance is placed upon the written versions of events (particularly as they are usually drafted in closer time-proximity to the crime). Oral testimony is regarded as less impressive and less probative. The Perry Mason style methods which supposedly uncover truth and untruth in the oral-evidence and adversarial settings of American (and Australian) criminal trials may indeed be inferior to the colder European inquisitorial methods which compare story-line and against story-line to determine the whole truth.
A degree of sober inquisition is unapologetically needed here. History should not be the subject of adversarial method. A case can be argued, but objective argument must be the rule. We should go to the documents themselves and draw conclusions. We should offer some analysis based upon a general appreciation of 'stylometry'. (21)
I am minded that some Australian criminologists argue that 'stylometry' should be elevated into a form of expert evidence admissible in criminal trials. (22) Essentially, stylometry is a linguistic and writing-style analysis, combined with an examination of story-line development and an assessment of its significance. This 'evidence' would surely be applied by the Intelligence community and even by scholars determining cases of plagiarism.
We must now turn to Mittelmann's words and critically assess his story. I was provided with English-language translations of the German statements. (23) Alexander McClelland had obtained copies in 1988 from the German authorities; these were in German and he arranged for translations. Interestingly, we do not know if Mittelmann was fluent in German and whether he merely signed what was presented to him by Czech authorities. While I relied on McClelland's translations, I note that he has used them in correspondence with the German war crimes unit; we may assume their quality was tacitly accepted. Overall therefore, we are obliged to apply ourselves to inconsistencies, inferences and story-line development. That is sufficient in this case.
Point by point analysis:
Statement One (hereafter: S1), Statement Two (S2) and Statement Three (S3) are agreed that a massacre occurred outside Terezin in late March or early April 1945 when prisoners of war refused to obey a German order to dig an anti-tank ditch. After that the story changes in any number of ways. Because S1 was used in the trial of Rojko, it has a certain primacy. It was also the shortest statement. The fact three statements were made allows us to judge the accuracy of the story as its’ author elaborates it.
(i) Who Were Those Killed?
In S1, Mittelmann said: "a number of Australian soldiers who had earlier fought against the Nazis in the army in the west and previously been in prisoner of war camps.." were transferred to Theresienstadt because "the whole unit had attempted to escape". When the men were taken to "start digging anti-tank ditches", they protested invoking "international agreements". Shooting began. "Thus I saw forty to fifty Australian soldiers were shot by Rojko, Burian and Jockl." They were "shot on the spot".
In S2, he said: "More than a thousand prisoners of different nationalities worked there. Among them I saw Australian and New Zealand prisoners of war." "It was said these prisoners had been put in the small fortress because of attempted escapes from prisoners of war camps." The shooting began after protests and "they began to assemble us in the neighbourhood of the New Zealand soldiers and Australian prisoners". "The "shooting was still to be heard", "after we had already set off".
In S3, he said, after setting the scene at the anti-tank ditch: "We were altogether about one thousand persons. I noticed near me a group of about forty New Zealand and Australian prisoners of war. I approached this group and asked a lieutenant if it was right that they had been transferred to the Small Fortress because of attempting to escape from prisoner of war camp. I already knew that these prisoners of war had been quartered in Compound 4 but not allocated work. Later (note: we shall return to the intervening events below) after the protests: "Thereupon we were led aside to the ditches and the prisoners of war were herded together in a group at the edge of a little wood nearby. Suddenly wild shooting began." And "many of the prisoners of war fell to the ground." They were marched away to firing that could "still be heard".
What did Mittelmann say in this sequence which affects credibility?
(a) The change of story from Australians in S1 to Australians and New Zealanders in S2 and S3 was a major shift because the first version was absolutely specific in referring to Australians only, a unit no less - which had fought in "the army in the west" Given that no Australian ground troops had served in the European theatre of war since 1941, "west" creates yet a further uncertainty in Mittelmann's story.
(b) The idea that the men were a "unit" is ridiculous if we take that to mean men drawn from a single company or platoon (division, possibly could be conceded). It would be contrary to all policy for the men to have been held as a unit whilst in regular camps. In S2 and S3 there is no mention of "unit". If Mittelmann meant "unit" in some sort of generic sense, that is as a group of men collected together in a camp, he was careful to remove the term from later statements.
(c) In S1 because a "whole unit" had tried to escape from a prison camp the men were transferred to Theresienstadt; this was "apparently" the case. In S2 Mittelmann remarked "it was said" the men had escaped from prisoner of war camps. In S3 he knew this because he asked a "lieutenant" who confirmed it for him. The story-line improved over time.
(d) Mittelmann saw "many" men shot (S3) but did not witness the end of the incident. He does not know how many men died "on the spot" or in "the wood" (more on this discrepancy below).
(ii) A Necessary Interpose: From What Did Weissing 'Read' To Assert British POW's Were Killed?
We must now break from Mittelmann for a moment to look at a further problem. It appeared on the documentary that Weissing was reading from 'the' Mittelmann statement when he said British prisoners were massacred with the others. However, Mittelmann never said that British soldiers were murdered. He only referred to Australians and New Zealanders.
If Weissing was referring to some other evidence, it was never stated, particularly if that evidence was the Rojko trial (where in fact this allegation was never made!).
Weissing also referred to Wachkolz (who does not appear in any of the Mittelmann statements) along with Burian doing most of the killing and Rojko and Jockel just killing three on the spot. The matter of "three" killed "on the spot" could have been a faulty German translation in S1 according to McClelland. It is whether the reference is to three prisoners being murdered on the spot or the three Nazis doing the killing on the spot. Whatever the case, it is clear there are two versions of events here.
So, from what was Weissing reading? It cannot be believed that Weissing, as a German state prosecutor, fabricated an allegation that British prisoners of war were massacred. It can only follow that he was reading from some sort of (possibly provided or hastily prepared) precis of events. The 'error' entered into the script. What is absolutely clear is that the allegation of British deaths was not part of the 'evidence'. If it was not part of the evidence, then it was something else. Yet with the fluidity of the story-line, we are confronted with a claim based now on the word of a German prosecutor, a matter to which we shall return with critical and original material.
If Mittelmann contradicts Weissing as a 'direct witness', whom would Where Death Wears A Smile have us believe?
(iii) Where Were They Killed?
In S1, he said the Australians were "shot on the spot". In S2, "the small wood" is mentioned as the location for the killings. S3 says "the edge of a little wood nearby".
What did Mittelmann say in this sequence which affects credibility?
(a) There are two general places for our murders: in the ditches, at or near a wood. It cannot be both.
(b) The murders either took place in the wood or at its edge. It cannot be both, considering the wood "soon filled" with bodies, something which Mittelmann also suggests he did not see because he was marched away.
(iv) Whom Did Mittelmann See?
The naming of the guards in the Mittelmann statements contains an issue. It seems Mittelmann knew them by name and could recall them fifteen years later. Whilst not impossible on either count, it is curious. We must ask whether during the interrogation process the names were supplied. Faulty identification processes in criminal law have led to false convictions. No less a rigorous standard should have been applied in war-crimes matters. However, Mittelmann was identifying Nazi criminals in communist Czechoslovakia for a trial in Austria. Some reservation as to this identification must be retained and applied to the other uncertainties in the case.
(v) Mittelmann Corroborates Himself With A Lie.
In S3, Mittelmann after he mentions marching away from the murder scene, said: "I imagine that all the prisoners of war were killed for their cells remained empty".
In S2, Mittelmann mentions a "march back to the Fortress". In S3 they were "led off in the direction of the Small Fortress" and "to the Fortress".
Self-corroboration is a verbal ruse designed to create plausibility. Mittelmann presents that he was put back in the Fortress after the murders to observe the empty cells. Here, fortunately, self-corroboration has a poisonous effect on Mittelmann's case.
Correspondence with Dr. Vojtech Blodig, of the Terezin Memorial revealed: "There are no record (sic) of Moritz Mittelmann in the Small Fortress. Three persons of this name were incarcerated in the Terezin Ghetto placed in the town of Terezin". (24) We should accept Dr. Blodig.
What did Mittelmann say in this sequence which affects credibility?
(a) Mittelmann has lied twice. He tells us he was in The Small Fortress. He says he saw the empty cells.
(b) A structured falsehood of this sort raises general problems of credibility. This was an inventive set of two lies which made Mittelmann appear to be a witness of credit. Obviously, he wanted to be believed about the massacre allegation. If it was simply true - why did he bother to embellish it?
(vi) Mittelmann Creates A Role For Himself: A Contradiction To Feed A Significant Development Of Story-Line
In S2 Mittelmann relates a phase when he spoke to one of the Australian and New Zealand prisoners, possibly to clarify why they were at Theresienstadt; after all it was "said" they were there because of "attempted escapes", Mittelmann says: "I asked one of them and he answered me in German: 'It is better for you to see nothing'." The story then goes on towards the protest about the ditch digging. Nothing like this had appeared in S1.
In S3, Mittelmann changed the story. He said: " I approached this group and asked if it was right that they had been transferred to The Small Fortress because of attempting to escape from the prisoner of war camp. I already knew that these prisoners of war had been quartered in Compound 4 but not allocated work. The lieutenant answered me in English that it was better for me to know nothing."
The change from German to English conversation is itself a shift, but this time Mittelmann used the alteration to bring himself into a significant role in the entire affair.
In S3, he continues: "Rojko noticed me speaking to the prisoner of war and asked me if I understood English. When I answered yes, he demanded that I inform the prisoners of war that they had to dig anti-tank ditches together with us. The officer asked me to tell Rojko that they as prisoners of war on the basis of the Geneva Convention were not obliged to carry out militarily important work for the Germans and that for this reason they refused to help dig anti-tank ditches. I translated this for Rojko. Besides Rojko, the other overseers of the anti-tank ditch digging were also there and were armed not just with pistols as usual but with rifles. I remember exactly that Malloth and Mende were also there. Then after I had translated the officer's answer for Rojko, he turned to Malloth and spoke with him. Thereupon, we were led aside ……
What did Mittelmann say in this sequence which affects credibility?
(a) It seems that not only did Mittelmann change the language of conversation with the Australian officer from German to English, he reveals himself as a veritable linguist.
(b) In S3, Mittelmann has advanced himself as a direct participant and no longer merely a disinterested observer in the events that led to the massacre. We note that it is in S3 that Mittelmann had corroborated himself with the matter of the empty cells and I would suggest the final version is his ultimate effort to demonstrate credibility - this time to the German war crimes office for whom the statement was made. No wonder, the Germans remained dismissive.
(vii) The Rumour / The American Soldiers' Newspaper.
In S2, Mittelmann says, after mentioning "the march to the Fortress" and the "still to be heard firing": "The story went around that about forty Australian and New Zealand prisoners had been shot who, on the basis of the Geneva Convention had refused work which helped the military reinforcement of the enemy."
While Mittelmann knew how to quote the Geneva Convention accurately to the "municipal court in Pressburg", he tells us a story which "went around". Is this a clue to Mittelmann's frame of mind? Did he adopt as fact, a story he had heard?
In S3, Mittelmann says: "Then later I read in the American soldiers' newspaper that these prisoners had been shot."
I cannot confirm at this stage whether any such thing had ever appeared in any publication of the American army, let alone Stars And Stripes. However,
what did Mittelmann say in this sequence which affects credibility?
(a) He has raised the idea the story was in the first instance a camp rumour.
(b) He has suggested the possibility he has adopted the story from a propaganda publication, if in fact it ever reported the matter at issue and allowing in the opposite that it reported similar incidents.
(viii) On The Liberation Of The Camp.
In S1, Mittelmann says "It was at the end of March and beginning of April 1945 when the Red Army approached the fortress of Theresienstadt."
It is however, not the correct military history. The Red Army was still far to the north in Silesia and beyond the Elbe River.
In S2, Mittelmann says: "When in the second half of March to the beginning of April 1945 soldiers of the II Ukrainian Front approached in the Elbe valley, the prisoners in the Small Fortress were transferred for a certain time from the ghetto to dig anti-tank ditches …."
In S2, Mittelmann now knows the organizational title of the Soviet army group which eventually moved across in Czechoslovakia and has added it. Curiously he confuses placement of the prisoners at the Small Fortress with the ghetto inmates. This muddle might have a meaning if, as we have seen, Mittelmann was never imprisoned in The Small Fortress.
In S3, Mittelmann says: "The second incident at which I was present occurred as a result of the digging of anti-tank ditches between Leitmeritz and Theresienstadt on the Eder, on the left bank of the river. At the beginning of March to the beginning of April 1945, all working parties of the Small Fortress, that is all outside working parties, were transferred to digging anti-tank ditches."
In S3, there are two changes. The Red Army is taken out of the story, a matter seemingly of little relevance unless we appreciate Mittelmann was a month out in his calculation for the arrival of Soviet troops. He then refers only to Small Fortress prisoners as the "outside working parties". So how did Mittelmann, who was a ghetto inmate meet them? If they were transferred, he certainly could have; if he insists by his self-corroborating lie he was an inmate of The Small Fortress, we are back where we were.
What did Mittelmann say in this sequence which damages his credibility?
(a) He gives us incorrect military detail and by unnecessarily developing it and then ignoring it, suggests he was generally untruthful; the inference is he might be referring to an incident in early May 1945 when the Red Army approached the area (which as we shall see could be correct, but it was a atrocity not involving Australians, British and New Zealanders).
(b) He continues to confuse The Small Fortress and the ghetto an important point since he was not imprisoned in the former.
This analysis of the Mittelmann evidence (taken in isolation to any other external facts) is corrosive of his credibility. Of course, he maintains that a massacre took place. The stylometric analysis cannot conclude that a massacre did not occur. Rather, it looks at the broad picture. Mittelmann changed his story and developed it at several points. He wanted to be believed. I need not repeat the conclusions above. Significantly, Mittelmann developed his story after Rojko's trial and probably did so to try to bring on a further legal process against him. That is suspicious in the extreme. On the evidence of the statements alone, Mittelmann's story must be regarded as highly suspect, if not impossible.
The producers argue, for the allegation of the witness as the determinative issue given its corroboration by the German Weissing and Walter Steilberg. The allegation is only the start of the problem. We shall get to the putative corroboration.
At the end of this analysis, we do not know which case we are disproving. It is clear that the Mittelmann massacre allegation contains no British deaths, but the film-documentary - does. We may reasonably refuse to deal with something which is not a part of the 'evidence'. Yet, we can trenchantly criticise the producers for allowing it.
An Analysis Of The Weissing Interview
The German prosecutor, Hermann Weissing, was somewhat naturally interviewed for Where Death Wears A Smile. It was his office which had care of the Mittelmann statements.
The Weissing quotation referred to above, has taken on a special importance for the journalists. In a 1998 reply to one of McClelland's argumentative forays into print against their account of a massacre, Heimans and Rea caustically replied, in what should be regarded as a major statement of position:
"Despite Alexander McClelland's attempted revisionism of Nazi war crimes (August 9) we stand by the accuracy of our film Where Death Wears A Smile…Two of his claims deserve attention.
First he casts doubt on an eye witness account of the alleged massacre of some 40 Australian and other Allied POW's ordered to help dig an anti-tank ditch outside The Small Fortress of Terezin in March or April 1945. The witness's account may well contain inconsistencies and we make no judgement of these. Our authority was the German Prosecutor of War Crimes in Dortmund who told us: 'Yes, I believe this incident did take place.'
Second, Mr. McClelland is wrong to impugn the honesty and integrity of fellow POW, Walter Steilberg. By his own account, Mr. Mr McClelland was delirious and barely conscious at the anti-tank ditch and could offer no clear account of his experiences there. Mr. Steilberg who was elsewhere in the ditch was far more certain about what he saw, including the killing of 27 people in one day. Questioned many times, Mr. Steilberg has never wavered in this terrible recollection." (25)
The journalists have shifted ground. They are saying: the witness might be right if inconsistent, but the German Prosecutor corroborated his account. Steilberg corroborates the story and therefore McClelland is wrong and unfair and involved in revising Nazi crime. They must be judged on this.
Weissing was asked a question:
Q: "Are you quite satisfied that this murder did take place?"
A: "I am quite certain that this incident did take place."
The problem is: to what question was Weissing really answering? The choice of language seemed unusual. Asked whether he was aware of a "this murder" (singular), he described the affair as an "incident" that he is "certain" took place. The viewers were left with the undeniable impression Weissing was giving his professional opinion that the massacre had occurred.
The author caused an analysis to be made of a video-recording of the television documentary. A section of some sixteen seconds, outlining the long quotation from Weissing and the question/answer sequence. The video material was reduced to 400 digital images. At 'stills' 273 and 274, a break has occurred. This break has occurred precisely where it seems that Weissing is asked about "this murder" and he answers that he is quite certain "this incident" occurred. (26)
Now the existence of this break does not of itself prove that Weissing was not asked a similar question several times and a 'clear' one was simply chosen for proper effect. It does not mean that there were not any innocent number of editorial reasons for a break at this point. However, the Weissing answer concerning an "incident" might refer to anything and could well be a reply to a different question. That is the problem; the problem is that there is a break at all.
It can only be the position that Weissing was familiar with the decision in the Graz court in 1963. To believe that he was not aware of the decision would suggest a breakdown in the assembly of evidence. This cannot be allowed. Certainly later, when the German office reinvestigated the affair, the Rojko trial result must have been known; indeed, this was confirmed in correspondence with the author.
Weissing's comments contain two other problems: he referred to British deaths and a guard named Wackholz. Neither of these matters were contained in the Mittelmann statements. So by what means did Weissing introduce these two issues?
Jurgen Corleis has shown to the author a document in the handwriting of Paul Rea, a list of questions which were his draft questions to Weissing, as written on a piece of hotel note paper, around the time of the interview. Although some bear relation to the questions asked on Where Death Wears A Smile, they are not the same. (27) There are any number of reasons why that might be so, but there also remains the unfortunate possibility that 'voice over' was used for the interviewer's questions in the final edited production. That technique, even allowing that no falsification took place, would alter the quality of the Weissing interview.
So, where do we stand? Weissing's opinion on any matter is not direct evidence, although in a historical inquiry of this sort, it should carry some weight. Possibly, Weissing did believe in the massacre story. Possibly not. Our problem is that the Weissing interview has been edited and we must rely on the journalists to affirm that the 'truth' of his words is in the film. Of course, they do affirm that. Regrettably, Weissing was not located for the purpose of this article. The state of this inquiry is left with the oral evidence and the general background circumstances of its creation. Reasonably, if the author could assess the problems of the Mittelmann story, Weissing must have done so and to "believe" in it would have required a leap of faith a sober German prosecutor might not readily make.
Bluntly, Weissing does not corroborate Mittelmann in either Australian or German law. Nor does he corroborate him in the pursuit of historical truth, although any 'opinion' he gave would demand further investigation. Whatever the situation in 1984, the German war crimes investigators, after further research, have not come around to the position of Where Death Wears A Smile. That 'opinion' would carry more weight than Weissing's view (whatever that was) arrived at in 1984.
Heimans and Rea asserted their faith in Weissing as determinative evidence, but their conclusion drawn in 1998 was seemingly not conditioned by the German re-investigation – if, in fact, they knew of it. Obviously, the German war crimes office has moved on.
The On Camera Commentary Of Walter Steilberg POW.
Mr. Walter Steilberg was an Australian prisoner of war in The Small Fortress. The interview with Steilberg formed an important part of the documentary.
The author viewed the documentary closely. Steilberg speaks of a murder in a ditch outside Terezin. He recounts gory details. It is very obvious that the viewer is invited to accept that Steilberg was referring to the massacre at issue here.
However, in The National Times article published some months before the documentary appeared on Australian television, Rea said something rather different about the murders which Steilberg witnessed.
"So in late March, Steilberg and Slater were ordered out of their cell and marched with a large group from the camp to the site of an anti-tank trench a few kilometres away. It resembled a human ant hill with some 1500 prisoners scurrying back and forth. The shortage of tools and the urgency of the work meant that most of them loosened the hard soil with their hands and carried it to large piles alongside the trench.
Discipline among the guards, particularly the young SS cadets had almost completely fallen apart. In a single day Steilberg witnessed the killing of 28 (note the figure has also been described as 27) prisoners many of them clubbed to death with shovels and rifle butts. Most had dropped to their knees in exhaustion. The rumour soon circulating was that this absurd exercise was not an anti-tank trench at all but their own mass grave." (28)
In following paragraphs, Rea described the alleged killing of the Allied prisoners in accordance with Mittelmann's version, referring to: "Elsewhere on the same site in late March or early April 1945 - the exact date is uncertain - came a group of Australian, British and New Zealand POW's. A Czech Jew who witnessed the events that were to follow …." Reasonably, Rea, a professional journalist, wrote these words with some care; the break in story-line was sharp and could not really be excused as the mishandling of material. For the present inquiry, Rea has provided a clear statement of what he understood was included in the different murder sequences.
It seems therefore that the documentary committed a sleight of hand, turning one massacre into another. Why? It follows too, that when Heimans and Rea replied to McClelland in print in 1998, they were not properly forthcoming in again calling Steillberg as corroboration when they knew he was referring to a different massacre (if indeed that had happened).
Again, we see the presence of dialectical controversy. This situation is often inevitable in history and the detective is required. The conclusion is open, that the documentary misrepresented Steilberg's evidence. This misrepresentation could not be accidental.
There are two further disturbing matters which discredit Steilberg, one being actual primary evidence concerning the original allegation. .First, we must recall that Steilberg has mentioned a specific number of murdered persons at the anti-tank ditch. If we accept he is putting himself forward as a direct witness, then he must have counted the dead as they were killed and filed the reference to memory and never forgotten it. It is possible, if curious. Or was he confabulating a story he had heard, which when combined with his sighting of the murders of a couple of people, has 'become' something else? Second, a witness, POW Cyril Collins, who was present with Steilberg in the ditch, wrote a letter to the British Foreign Office and referred to his time in The Small Fortress. Collins detailed working in the ditch and specifically said "I witnessed the killing of one of the Jewish prisoners with a spade." Yet, he did not corroborate Steilberg about the twenty-seven killings nor apparently see anything else like the murder of "forty" men. This is remarkable. Such an event could not be concealed and this man neither ‘saw’ it nor ‘heard’ about it. Further, Steilberg has reported in a letter to McClelland that he was re-interviewed by the documentary team with the logical inference questions were repeated over and over. "The film crew were up here last week to take a few final shots and as usual we had to keep redoing every scene." That process could have resulted in a distortion of his evidence used in the documentary. Nonetheless, whatever the case, Steilberg mentioned a major war crime and Collins did not. (29)
The Evidence Of Mr. Alexander McClelland POW
Alexander McClelland was an enlisted man of the 2/1 Battalion, captured by German paratroopers near Rethymnon, in Crete, on May 30 1941. He was thence held at German prisoner of war camps at Lamsdorf, Gursdorf, Genshagen (Berlin) and Bismarckhutte. He made a number of escapes only to be re-captured. In late January 1945, he put on the march towards Czechoslovakia, and after further escapes in Czechoslovakia, found himself at The Small Fortress at Theresienstadt in early March 1945.
McClelland wrote a book of his experiences published in 1995. (30) He has also been a persistent campaigner, both in respect of the very issue of his detention in Theresienstadt (which led to compensation in 1988 for Australian veterans) and over the question of whether the massacre of Allied prisoners occurred. Why McClelland would be untruthful about anything is difficult to see. However, in an affair where the integrity of this witness is basic, it is necessary to look closely at everyone. Usefully, McClelland corresponded with New Zealand and British survivors of Theresienstadt, with Airey Neave and state agencies; if he had detected any information regarding a massacre, it follows that he would have advanced it. Bluntly, there could be no reason for him to have concealed it since he had everything to gain from reporting it. Reasonably, no one knew of this supposed event, or possibly if anyone had heard of the Rojko trial, the report was ignored.
After all, the survivors were survivors and none of them had ever advanced the massacre claim. The absence of any Allied prisoners' testimony in support of the claim while certainly not final, is as highly suggestive as the German investigation not turning up witnesses (even more so as we shall see). The Mittelmann story had the 'murdered' men as new arrivals in the camp and their foolish demand to be treated by the conventions of war the act which precipitated the killing. The idea that so many new men can appear in the camp, and then disappear, particularly with a "rumour" circulating of murder, and the survivors not know something of the matter is - near impossible. Is it that the absence of evidence is, in this case, evidence of absence? We may also tackle it from the other end. If forty Australian (and New Zealand) prisoners had escaped as a "unit" (sic) from German custody, this escape would itself have been known of and its' heroic detail recorded. Yet, no such event has been noted down. We can fairly conclude that it never occurred.
The author obtained access to McClelland's substantial records and I have had the opportunity to quiz McClelland and reach conclusions about his credibility. Essentially, McClelland told the author the same story that he has repeated since 1985. In precis, it goes as follows:
McClelland says that the massacre allegation came as a confusing surprise in 1985. He had never heard of this incident. No other survivor of Theresienstadt, with whom he had been in contact over time, had ever raised it before or found it credible afterwards. He says that he documented fifty-five Allied prisoners of war at Theresienstadt and all survived. He says he never heard of a large number of Australians arriving as a 'unit' or otherwise. He says that he was indeed taken to an anti-tank ditch construction site, but because of injury (a poisoned leg; he was actually carried to the work-site) he did not work. He was told in 1973, when he conferred with witnesses in England, about a man (of uncertain nationality) murdered with a shovel, but he saw and heard no mass killing in 1945. He attended the German war crimes unit in 1988 and obtained copies of the Mittelmann statements and has carried on a public campaign to establish "the truth". He said he was surprised to find there were three statements, whereas the documentary led the viewer to believe there was only one.
McClelland has said much of this to The Sydney Morning Herald in 1993, as part of his long-running campaign to amend the historical record. (31)
The facts (sic) of the allegation have also undergone significant alteration. In an article for Reader's Digest, in 1987, Paul Rea wrote:
"In late March or early April 1945 - the date is imprecise because the Gestapo burned camp records - some 1000 prisoners were ordered to dig anti-tank ditches. Among them were more than 40 inmates - British, Australian and New Zealand pows.
Walter Riley, a Tasmanian with the 1st Anti-Tank Regiment saw a Royal Air Force officer protesting to the guards that under the Geneva convention, prisoners were not to carry out military tasks. 'An SS officer drew his gun and shot him', says Riley. 'The guards began to get excited and moved us away'.
After the war, a Czech political prisoner told the Prosecutor of War Crimes in Dortmund, West Germany, how two protesting Allied officers were shot, and prisoners who tried to flee into a wood were mowed down. 'The little wood was strewn with corpses', he said." (32)
The developments here could have only been recognised by Rea and vary from the version of events offered in Where Death Wears A Smile.
(d) The time frame for the crime is now different to the Mittelmann version.
The dichotomy of opinion is relevant to this article. The author observed the frustration of McClelland and takes note too of the resistance of Heimans and Rea. The (changing) facts have become tools in a historical chess-game, a most unsatisfactory position on a matter as grave.
A Gruesome Game Of 'Elimination'. Finality In The Records Of The British National Archives.
In addressing whether a massacre of Allied servicemen had occurred (on either the Mittelmann or the Riley versions), I adopted the legitimate forensic method of eliminating from potential casualty lists all those who have been accounted for. If there is no one left to kill, then there was no killing. We will utilise several other sources to corroborate this line of approach. Fortunately, I also accessed the records of the British investigation of war crimes at Theresienstadt. In combination, the massacre case was shattered.
McClelland has provided the figure of fifty-five, as the total of British Empire prisoners held at Terezin in 1945. Is this figure correct? The official historian of the Terezin Memorial, Dr. Vojtech Blodig said in correspondence that his figures revealed: 55 British, 1 Cyprus, 1 Palestine, 1 New Zealand, 1 Canada and 4 Australia. This gives us a total of sixty-three prisoners. (33) Obviously, there is some uncertainty in the totals.
Confusingly, some Australians and New Zealanders were obviously recorded as 'British' at Theresienstadt. Reasonably, the German officials had difficulties appreciating the nationalities of British Empire prisoners.
Dr. Blodig was also asked as to the official position of the Memorial on the massacre allegation. He replied: "We can confirm none (sic) massacre of prisoners from the British Empire occurred in the Terezin Small Fortress in the beginning of April 1945. A big group of British prisoners was dispatched from Terezin probably to the Stalag camp at Vrchotowy Janovice. However, any further information about this event is missing." Although of course, still not determinative, this 'opinion' more than balances the purported view of Hermann Weissing, if only because Dr. Blodig is also expert in the affairs of no less than Rojko himself and has composed material about him. (34)
First, we should start with the official records held by the Terezin Memorial. We must access these records to prove two elements of the argument. It is necessary to show that no "unit" of Allied (particularly Australian) prisoners arrived at Theresienstadt in March or April and then to provide finite numbers of potential victims.
Some cards (copies) were provided by Dr. Blodig. (35) There were sixty-four inmates listed. The names and their nationalities (as recorded) are given along with date of entry into The Small Fortress:
Alexander, George 6 March 1945
Arterelic, Ivo 23 March 1945
Banks, (no first name) 23 March 1945
Bone, Keneth 14 November 1944
Boyce. John 27 February 1945
Brannam, John 6 March 1945
Braunwell, Alf 6 March 1945
Bright, Jim 27 February 1945
Calvert, Georg 6 March 1945
Clark, Jack 6 March 1945
Cannon, John 3 April 1945
Coak, Josef 6 March 1945
Collins, Cyril 6 March 1945
Doly (Doby), Peter 6 March 1945
Dollman, Stanley. 23 March 1945
Dwyer, Daniel. 6 March 1945
Dynes, Bernhard. 27 February 1945
Franks, Joe 20 March 1945
Glanville, Herald 14 November 1944.
Graham, Robert 27 February 1945
Groughan, Frans, James 6 February 1945
Hamilton, Thomas Michael 6 March 1945
Harris, Frank 20 March 1945
Harry, William 6 March 1945.
Hassan, Gallik 27 February 1945
Hiscock, Frederik 6 March 1944
House, Leslie 6 March 1945
Keon, A.M. 6 March 1945
Klauber, Georg 6 March 1945
Lederer, Bill. 6 March 1945
Maluskey, John 7 February 1945
Mathew, James 6 March 1945
Melanita, Chrisanthes 27 February 1945
Mills, Fleming 6 March 1945
Nash, Reginald 14 November 1944
Oven, Denzil 27 February 1945
Pafitt, William 6 March 1945
Potocki, Max 20 March 1945
Powell, Johann 6 March 1945
Richardson, John 6 March 1945]
Roper, Stanley 14 November 1944
Selot, Henry 14 November 1944.
Sklaf, Artur 6 March 1945
Slater, Robert 14 November 1944
Smith, Andraes 23 March 1945
Smith, Patrick 6 March 1945
Stevenston, (no first name) 14 November 1944
Stirling, Eduard 27 February 1945
Turner, Fredrik 27 February 1945
Tyson, John 23 March 1945
Uni, Mac 6 March 1945
Ward, James 23 March 1945
Wells, Eduard 23 March 1945
Wood, Stanley 4 April 1945
Worrel, Richard 6 March 1945
Kane, William 6 March 1945
Pantelidies, Demetrios 6 March 1945
Schefkeb, Kundus 27 February 1945
Froome, Cecil 6 March 1945
Cullen, H. March 1945
Steilberg, Walter 14 November 1944.
Wise, Walter 20 March 1945
Mottraim, Thomas 20 March 1945
Reid, Raymund 6 March 1945
Stern, Mordechay 20 March 1945
Interestingly, Alexander McClelland did not appear on the card-index neither as an Australian - nor as 'anything' else. According to McClelland, this might be because he was taken into The Small Fortress through a tunnel system and not entered up at the main gate. I note his honesty here. It follows that others could have come the same way. Walter Riley, referred to by Rea in his journalism, was also not recorded. Yet, this is a far cry from the idea of a "unit" or large body of men entering the prison unregistered and unnoticed and being of such 'quality' could thence be massacred without documentary trace. That the murderous Germans could have singled out that very group for massacre, in the context of the circumstances described by Mittelmann, would be truly fantastic.
Second: we have useful Gestapo records. On May 21 1979, the Central State Archives of the former Czechoslovak state provided to McClelland a statement regarding the Allied prisoners held by the Gestapo at Pankrac prison in Prague. (36) The names of Steilberg, Wise and Cullen (an Australian described by the Small Fortress records as British), Nash, Dynes (a New Zealander described by the Small Fortress records as British), Reid, Alexander, Mills, Clark, and Froome, were recorded as being transferred to Theresienstadt. Thomas Tiplady (born in Newcastle, but country not mentioned) was also noted as transferred to Theresienstadt on March 6 1944. No record of this prisoner appeared in the Terezin Memorial card index.
Third: we must turn to the investigation carried out by the British Judge Advocate General into Theresienstadt. We can rely upon it as utterly authoritative. (37) We note that the British certainly investigated with great energy the criminal execution of some fifty prisoners from the Great Escape incident of March 1944. The present crime, if it occurred, would be on a similar scale. In this case, the British authorities investigated the "Brutal mistreatment of British PoW, and evidence of same resulting in deaths in case of Jews and Czechs.." , citing Rojko and Commandant Jockel as war criminals. The document trail shows some energy in locating witnesses and detailing the affairs of the Gestapo prison. If a major war crime occurred there, this investigation would have revealed it. It would be crass sophistry to argue anything else.
The investigators therefore interviewed a number of British prisoners of war. I note that they did not interview the entire set of prisoners. However, their interviews were carried out in 1945 when the events were fresh in the minds of the men and their affidavits were taken. The men interviewed were: Sergeant-Major Glanville, Schlomo Abramovits (not on the card-index), Currie, Norman Rubenstein (not on the card-index), Maxwell, Illott, Klauber and Bone, It was Glanville who was interviewed first in May 1945. Summaries of evidence were also made.
Glanville said: "In March we were taken out to work on anti-tank positions, with SS Wehrmacht guards. I complained to the officer in charge that we were British POWS and he promised to do everything to help us. It could be that his influence helped in our eventual discharge from this work. That afternoon many of our party witnessed the murder of two Jews. I was told to tell them men that they were not to discuss what they had seen, under main of severe punishments, and the reason the Jews were killed, was that they sabotaged their work."
It was thus Glanville who made the protest. It was two Jews who were murdered, a matter "many of our party" reasonably discussed. It was these men who were told "not to discuss" what had been seen, not the shadowy Mittelmann. On Glanville’s account, the statement of Walter Riley that a Royal Air Force officer protested, was false - and the Steilberg version is also excluded.
Abramovits said: ".. we were sent out to work for two days. The work consisted of digging. The weather was very cold and two civilians, aged about 65, were shot by the guards because they could not continue working…. During the time we were out digging we complained to an officer of the Wehrmacht and an officer of the SS about the way we were being treated and they promised to use their influence to help us."
Abramovits corroborated Glanville.
Currie said: ".. I remember on one day two Jews were shot by the guards for not working hard enough."
Currie corroborates the others.
Rubenstein said: he was removed from the camp "on 4 April 1945." Interestingly, he too was not on the card index of Allied prisoners.
Rubenstein confirmed Glanville and Currie (and the Terezin Memorial) on this point.
Maxwell said: "..we went out on one occasion only and that was to help dig a tank trap. On this occasion I saw a civilian German guard attack a Jew with a spade and split open his head because the Jew had remained more than two minutes in a lavatory. The guard was called and he shot the Jew dead."
Maxwell was reasonably referring to the same incident of killing.
On a ‘particulars of crime’ sheet, Ilott said: "We were made to work for two days on a tank trap. Witnessed the murder of 3 Jews."
Ilott may therefore be suggesting there was the incident of the spade and two separate shootings.
Klauber said: "I have a fluent knowledge of German and frequently acted as interpreter for my fellow prisoners of war." He added: "In March 1945, we were taken out to work on anti-tank ditches. I saw two Jewish civilians murdered by a German civilian prisoner who struck them severe blows on the head. He struck one of them with a spade. … Half an hour later while the two Jews lay on the ground almost dead, they were finished off by one of the guards who shot them."
Klauber’s version corroborates the others.
Bone said: "About the end of March 1945 we were ordered to dig a tank trap … There were a large number of Jews excavating with their bare hands and one of the Jews was accused of sabotage by being a minute or two late coming out of the lavatory. A German guard picked up a spade and struck this Jew on the top of the head and forehead. His head was split open and he fell to the ground unconscious. The guard then tossed up to see who would shoot him and the guard allotted to do the job went up with his revolver but turned away; another guard took out his revolver and shot the Jew through the head and heart. The Jew expired."
Bone’s story is congruent with the other testimony.
The evidence of Abramovits, Rubenstein and Klauber is doubly important. These men were Jewish and hardly had any desire to conceal Nazi crime. Yet, they tell a story that excludes the massacre allegation and agrees with their fellow soldiers.
The witness’s affidavits were drafted in connection to the British brief against Rojko and Jockel. It seems some witnesses ‘know’ these men and could identify them. Interestingly, Rojko was not accused by the witnesses of killing the Jewish civilians in the ditch. Indeed, they accused a German civilian ‘kapo’ in that regard This version contrasts with the Mittelmann story which centres on Rojko as the instigator of the killings. By Glanville’s account, Mittelmann’s version could not be true.
The British files also refer to other prisoners such as Obbels (a Belgian), Chesquire (an American), Roper, Thomas, Pratt, Scott, Alexander, Uni and others. All obviously survived imprisonment at Theresienstadt.
Where are we left? If Glanville led the protest against the work in the anti-tank ditch, then if there was a massacre, it occurred not long afterwards. Obviously, it did not. Glanville does not say in what language he addressed the German officers, but Klauber, a Jew, was an interpreter. If someone translated, was it him? All the witnesses noted the murder of two (or three) Jews and the singular matter of the spade to which Collins referred. These events took place in March and on April 4 the British prisoners left the Small Fortress. We have too many alive for there to be a vast pool of dead and nobody is aware of any massacre. Further, it stretches belief to accept that there was a separate protest against the work by Australians somewhere else on the finite area of the anti-tank works, a protest in identical terms to the British protest, and one which precipitated a massacre.
The events described (sic) by Mittelmann could only be the matters discussed in the British investigatory documents. The conclusion must be that Mittelmann's evidence is utterly false. Given the reports of there being Jewish civilian prisoners in the ditch that day, he was possibly one of them, but that is as far as we can go. It seems highly likely therefore, that the Czech authorities (who, as the Archival record showed, were definitely aware of the British war-crimes investigation) allowed Mittelmann to read Glanville's statement. That would reasonably and very neatly explain the fabrication. The one anomaly in the British statements, the matter of whether there were two days work on the ditch or one day, cannot assist the process of historical falsification - as no record of any atrocities (other than the murders of the Jews) is advanced by the British prisoners.
Fourth: we have the results of the British compensation investigation undertaken by Airey Neave. It is a matter of historical record that this former officer served at the great War Crimes trial at Nuremberg in 1946. Given that he met with British survivors of The Small Fortress and oversaw the fight of concentration camp victims for compensation, it may be reasonably understood that if any information had come to light of a massacre at Theresienstadt, then it would have been ventilated thoroughly. Nothing emerged. Further, if some forty men were compensated, and allowing for natural attrition, it seems most unlikely any of the men recorded on the German lists as "British" (and some were not) were massacred. (38)
Fifth: we can refer to the trial papers of Stefan Rojko.
The British file told us of Rojko’s apprehension and his deportation from Czechoslovakia to Austria in 1946. Interestingly, Rojko was released into the community until, in 1951, the Czechoslovak authorities applied for his extradition. Unfortunately, the documents contained key errors and Rojko claimed "mistaken identity" and thus remained at liberty until 1961. (39) Mittelmann’s statement conveniently came into being that year and was obviously part of an ongoing Czechoslovak interest in the case of a man certainly involved in the murder of Czechoslovak citizens and communists.
I performed some necessary enquiries of the 'Documentation Archive Of The Austrian Resistance' in Vienna. A file on Rojko existed and I was provided with the indictment in the case where the allegation of the murder of the Australians was charge "17". Dr. Elisabeth Klamper of the Archive discussed Rojko with the author and expressed her "surprise" at the contention that he murdered Australians. Klamper’s sobriety contrasted with Rea’s zealotry. Here it is poignant to note that the latter, in his 1985 National Times article, noted Rojko’s acquittal, but reasserted that the "State Prosecutor" (Weissing) believed the massacre "did actually take place" and even went on to refer to other "Allied POW’s, possible witnesses to the massacre". Always, the question of Rojko was as crucial to the truth as the British witnesses, (who in fact, exonerated Rojko in this instance). (40)
Stefan Rojko was sentenced to life imprisonment on October 4 1963 and was conditionally paroled in July 1975. The full documentary record of the Rojko trial is contained in the provincial government archives in Graz. Two war crimes’ history and document web sites rely upon this record. One states that Rojko’s victims were "Jewesses and Jews (Austrian) and prisoners (Czech and German" and that he was found guilty of "killing and causing the death of political prisoners and Jews in KZ Theresienstadt. (Kleine Festung)." (41)
The cleavage between Mittelmann's allegation and Rojko's acquittal cannot be sharper. To restore the allegation against Rojko as a 'fact' could only have been justified with the addition of new evidence. None was produced in the documentary, which oddly, failed to mention that Mittelmann had made further (contradictory) statements after Rojko's acquittal. A case could notionally have been made that Mittelmann had provided further (even if suspicious) incriminating material after Rojko's acquittal and whatever could be said against his veracity, it should demand further investigation. Yet, that course was not followed either. Notably, the documentary falsified the record by not referring to Rojko's acquittal. If this whole trail of evidence had been followed, the allegation could never have been run.
Sixth: we cannot allow that the dead might have been New Zealanders. Megan Hutching, an official and historian of the New Zealand Ministry Of Culture has informed me that this massacre allegation is known in New Zealand - and that is all. (42) The Official History Of New Zealand In The Second World War 1939 - 1945 states in Chapter 9: "Some 20 New Zealand prisoners in Germany suffered death in 1945 as a result of Allied military activity or enemy violence." There was no evidence formerly available to support a massacre allegation, which although not conclusive, is again most suggestive. (43)
Seventh: Heimans and Rea cannot explain the existence of the "unit" of Australians transferred to The Small Fortress. They would reasonably understand that the records of Australian Prisoners Of War are held by the War Memorial. It is a matter of official record that some 8184 were taken by Germany and Italy and some 265 died in captivity. (44) These files are public records and can be accessed. It is also true that the figures have, as the official Memorial historian Dr. Peter Stanley stated to the author, "a certain elasticity", along with assorted "contradictions and anomalies". However, he made it clear that in the researches of other historians and writers, nothing in the Roll Of Honour nor on the card indexes of the dead has hitherto alerted anyone - to the best of his expert knowledge - to the notion of a massacre at The Small Fortress. (45)
If no Australians are recorded as deaths at Terezin or identifiable as missing in German custody in peculiar circumstances, the journalists must thence retreat to alleging it was New Zealanders or British prisoners, shifting the goal posts and discrediting their one witness who identified Australians as the victims. And, as above, the 'availability' of British victims was undermined by the British war-crimes investigation.
Heimans and Rea now have substantive problems. They can neither produce the bodies (sic), nor incriminate Rojko. There are too many objections and any reliance on the eyewitness Mittelmann would be based on 'faith' rather than sobriety. When we sum together, these several objections to the massacre allegation, the case against Where Death Wears A Smile becomes overwhelming.
Final Truths: The Execution Of Czech Resistance Fighters. Mistaken Memories Amidst Unique Historical Circumstances. Other Problems
The current brochure given out to 'tourists' at Terezin Memorial sets out the official 'position' of this agency on matters of historical fact. Of course, they can be wrong too. Nonetheless, should there be any discrepancy between information provided by this authority and Where Death Wears A Smile, there is an inherent weight which should attach to the opinion of the Memorial. Given that they are not on opposing sides to Heimans and Rea in the historical debate on Nazi evil, and better equipped with the primary facts, one would lean towards their position.
The Memorial brochure reads:
"At the Small Fortress they began to execute prisoners in 1943. Some 250 inmates were shot to death. The biggest execution was carried out on May 2 1945, when 52 people were killed mostly members of resistance organisations (eg. Vanguard)." (46)
No further research was done into this massacre. However, we shall take the Memorial's statement on its face. The figure and the timing are significant in terms of the Mittelmann allegation.
Significantly, Dr. Blodig stated that in "early April" (McClelland gave the date as April 5 1945; it seems to be April 4), a large group of British prisoners was marched out of The Small Fortress. (47) This was an event likely to have stirred rumours in the Jewish ghetto where Mittelmann could easily have heard that they were marched away to be shot.
Where Death Wears A Smile reported that 601 prisoners were executed in the last few weeks of the war.
In fact, the Czech Memorial provides slightly contradictory, but different, data. I compared the official leaflet Terezin's Small Fortress with commentary from the official historian. The leaflet implies some 250 persons were executed from 1943 and were among those disinterred from a mass grave area in mid-1945. It is also the case that Dr. Blodig stated that "The 601 prisoners exhumated (sic) in summer 1945 were killed or died in The Small Fortress between March 1 til May 7 1945. The bodies of 587 men and 14 women were exhumated (sic); however, only 216 victims were identified because the identification cards on the bodies were very damaged." It is thence a little uncertain as to when all these prisoners were killed or died at Terezin. (48)
It is also true that typhus ravaged the camp in the last weeks of the war, which would surely account for some of the corpses. Yet, no evidence is available to support the idea that any of the dead were Allied prisoners. The fact that identity cards were buried with the bodies shows a certain complacency if murder had been carried out, but with no British deaths reported, we may take it that the 'lucky dip' of 216 identified bodies revealed nothing of the forty dead Allied prisoners of war. While not 'final' it is still indicative. We 'know' that the murdered men were killed somewhere else and do not know how the bodies were disposed of. Of course, they could have been buried at the site of the massacre or close by; but Mittelmann said nothing of this, and neither has anyone else. If the dead were returned to the mass grave at Theresienstadt, they were not found there and Where Death Wears A Smile misled its' viewers by subtly implying they were likely amongst the exhumed dead.
Heimans and Rea also had access (if they had desired it) to the greatest authority on Theresienstadt, the prominent Jewish intellectual, Dr. H.D. Adler, whose works have (admittedly) only recently been translated into English. On July 2 1984, they received a certain notification from Adler which complained that the "synopsis" of the documentary "contains factual errors and misleading information." (50) Given his works contain nothing of the massacre allegation, a cynical reason for ignoring Adler could be advanced; however, we would prefer to say they overlooked an authority who could have given an expert opinion on the massacre allegation. Whatever Adler's criticisms were, cannot be stated. It could have been as simple as a rebuttal of the claim that a rail spur was built right into the Theresienstadt ghetto and The Small Fortress, a notion not consistent with a map produced to them by two researchers in 1984 (49) It could have been something more fundamental up to and including the massacre allegation. Whatever the position, for Adler never to have recorded the massacre allegation as a fact, means he has been remiss as a historian - and this cannot be conceded.
Let us now be charitable to people who suffered a unique set of experiences. Mittelmann has said that a massacre of Allied servicemen had occurred. He may have been at the anti-tank ditch where a shooting had, at some point, happened. Steilberg may have seen a number of men shot down at a ditch although this too is now highly questionable, unless he was really only referring to those killings witnessed by the British witnesses. Mittelmann could easily too, have witnessed or known of, the execution of the Czech Resistance fighters and otherwise heard of the removal of British prisoners from the camp. Sixteen years after the war, he was approached by communist authorities to make a statement. Was it calculation that caused him to tell the first story? Was it a mixture of duty and moral fervour that underlay all the versions? And what of confused memories? Or even confabulation (the manufacture of ‘memories’ in the mind)? We will never know.
It is obvious that Holocaust survivor, Moritz Mittelmann, was incorrect in what he said. He changed the story in many ways - and also obviously lied on certain details. I would prefer to take confabulation as the fairest option in explaining the genesis of the Mittelmann story. However, it should be noted too that it would have been unlikely the communist authorities were overly concerned with high standards of objectivity when providing material for trials of the Rojko sort. After all, when Mittelmann made his statement in 1961, the Berlin Wall was built, and in 1963 when Rojko was tried in Graz, the Cuban Missile Crisis had but recently brought the world to the brink of superpower war. Nazi trials were always a useful distraction for the communist side, given the heavy 'usage' of former Nazis by the Western 'anti-communists' in their Intelligence and scientific communities. Truth was the universal casualty of the Cold War.
It is an oddity of human nature there may exist those distressed by the finding that this alleged massacre of Australian (and British and New Zealand) prisoners of war at Theresienstadt – did not occur. They might feel that every murder which can be alleged against the Nazis, should stand as a truth, whether tested or not. This approach cannot be allowed.
The experience of Australian servicemen in captivity is a sensitive one. The treatment of prisoners by Japanese military authorities rankles six decades later, although the circumstances have been dispassionately investigated to find the truth. There is no reason to treat the detention of Australians by the German concentration camp system with anything less than professional discretion.
The evidence shows that not only was the massacre story unsubstantiated, but rather there was no massacre of Australian (or other Allied) prisoners at Terezin. The documentary Where Death Wears A Smile showed credulity and did Australian military history - a disservice.
Let us be matter-of-fact:
There was only one witness to the alleged event, Moritz Mittelmann. His script had severe stylometric problems which render it implausible and/or incredible. Whether these faults were the product of historical circumstances (Cold War politics) cannot be determined. In that scenario, Mittelmann would have been a conscious liar dredged up by the communists. No corroboration for the Mittelmann charge has ever been located, despite a thorough German war-crimes investigation.
There is full case that Mittelmann was mistaken in his memories. It is open to believe he heard a "rumour" of certain Allied deaths, but witnessed or knew of the execution of Czech Resistance fighters in May 1945 and confused the two events. He was probably present at the anti-tank ditch (a large work area) and saw some killings.
The Australian witness Walter Steilberg provided evidence that there were murders at the anti-tank ditch, but they were not the Allied prisoners. His veracity is also disputed by Cyril Collins.
The Australian witness Alexander McClelland says he knew of fifty-five Allied prisoners (there were more) who all survived detention. He said over twenty corresponded with him at different points. He never heard of any massacre and nor had the others. McClelland was acquainted with Airey Neave who represented British survivors. Neave never reported the massacre allegation from any of these men though quite obviously – he never asked.
One of the camp guards, Stefan Rojko faced the massacre charge in the context of his trial on an array of offences. He was acquitted.
Any reliance on the opinion of Hermann Weissing that the "incident" took place is essentially valueless. It is open to conclude the film had been edited at the point of this statement. Further Weissing mentioned the massacre of British prisoners, something which appeared nowhere in the Mittelmann evidence.
The dramatic impact of Where Deaths Wears A Smile is tainted by other contradictory writings by Rea. The most telling contradiction was demonstrated by the false use of Steilberg as corroboration in the documentary when Rea knew he was referring to other killings (whether they took place or not). The producers obviously knew of Rojko's acquittal but declined further investigation. That is damning. Their continued on attacks on McClelland, who is now vindicated by the British investigation, showed a refusal to accept the truth.
The official Terezin Memorial historian, Dr. Blodig, who happens to be an expert in the life of Sefan Rojko, denies the massacre occurred and he has provided a substantive card index of British Empire inmates. These men could not be the dead and he referred to British troops being marched out of the camp. A cross indexing of the cards and the British war-crimes file, shows a surprising number of ‘living men’ in 1945 if indeed a massacre had occurred.
The British government paid compensation to Small Fortress survivors while no record appears in Australian War Memorial prisoner-of-war files of a death at Theresienstadt. One expert on the New Zealand prisoner of war history says the massacre story is only known in that country and official records do not support the claim.
And ultimately, the 1945 British investigation of the Judge Advocate General provides us with direct testimony as to the events in the anti-tank ditch. These witnesses repudiate the Mittelmann story with their simple and straight forward account. These witnesses, including three Jewish war veterans in British uniform, were credible witnesses whose testimony cannot be repudiated. All British soldier witnesses tell a story of the murder of two (or three) Jewish civilians only. It is clear that Mittelmann’s false story was centred on facts contained in their truthful accounts. That too discredits Mittelmann by suggesting he had been provided with such statements.
The historian-as-detective confronted the journalist-as-investigator. It seems that having made an error, the producers of Where Death Wears A Smile compounded it by a refusal to confront the facts. They shifted the ground and put forward other explanations for the discrepancies. That too is human nature. However, in fairness, resolving matters of historical fact is not the province of newsprint or celluloid. To later attack the credibility of McCelland was yet another sorry aspect of a desultory saga. It was McClelland who began the fight for the recognition and compensation of the Australian veterans of Theresienstadt and he now stands utterly vindicated. That small detail is also testimony of Australian-soldier courage under a different fire.
We can be minded of Kweit's expose of Stoker. Indeed, this book was funded by persons who were close to the production of Where Death Wears A Smile. It is a concern that there are those who care not for truth. Kweit wrote, after declaiming against any proposition that "anti-semites" or "revisionists" would use to advantage his demolition of Stoker:
"Moreover, historical myths are known not to disappear easily. It is one of the most important tasks of the historian to counter with every means at his disposal the creation and dissemination of historical myths. If historians do not fulfil this obligation or if their warnings are ignored, the way is paved for ruthless manipulation or falsification of history." (51)
Judgment is in. The charge that up to forty Allied prisoners of war, including a number of Australians, were murdered at Theresienstadt - can be dismissed. Indeed, verdicts of acquittal in favour of the guards at Theresienstadt should be entered. Given the other crimes committed in both the ghetto and The Small Fortress, it is scant mercy to be exonerated - in just one case.
1. See: Lederer, Zdenek. Ghetto Theresienstadt. New York: Howard Fortig, 1983 ; Green, Gerald. The Artists Of Terezin. New York: Schockem Books, 1978.
2. British prisoners were already in the concentration camp system prior to D-Day (June 6 1944). The author conversed with the librarian of the Sydney Jewish Museum (June 16 / 17 2004) who consulted with "resident historian", Professor Konrad Kweit. It was said that Allied prisoners first appeared in the concentration camp system from late 1942 / early 1943. Kweit said the decision was made "willy nilly" by military authorities with likely SS prompting.
3. Senator Cotton, Hansard, 28 October 1981, pp.1792 - 1793 ; the Senator quoted Paul Rea's research ; the author possesses two decisions of the Concentration Camps Committee of the Federal Parliament ie. for Donald Joseph Watt and Alexander Cameron McClelland. Each received the $10,000 compensation payment.
4. House Of Lords Library File, AN 377 ("Prisoners Of War: Compensation For Victims Of Nazi Persecution").
5. Andrew Moore, "The Historian As Detective: Pursuing The Darroch Thesis And D.H. Lawrence's Secret Army," Overland 113, December 1988, pp.39 - 44.
6. Andrew Moore, The Secret Army And The Premier: Conservative Paramilitary Organisations In New South Wales 1930-32. Kensington: University of New South Wales Press, 1989. This seminal work articulated the sinister conspiracies behind the overthrow of the Lang government in 1932, matters that were obviously never meant to be deciphered. There are other works upon related subjects.
7. "Toben, Irving And Freedom Of Speech", The Australian Jewish News, July 4 2003, p.14. This editorial quoted Dr. Deborah Lipstadt who says "many things about the Holocaust are open to debate."
8. Simon Rocker, "Is Truth The Real Sacrificial Victim?", Jewish Chronicle, April 23 1999, p.31. In this piece, a Jewish writer exposes a false tale of the mass suicide of 93 Jewish girls in Cracow in 1942. Ominously for the current controversy, Rocker referred to "no other witnesses" other than the writer of a letter and a person who "overheard" the incident being available - and that "no other survivors" of the ghetto heard about it at the time. Konrad Kweit, "ANZAC And Auschwitz: The Unbelievable Story Of Donald Watt", Internet Journal Of Anti-Semitism And Holocaust_From Prejudice To Genocide, .http://22.214.171.124/journal/kkweit002.htm
9. Frank Heimans's credits (to 1984) are described in a 'Prospectus' document circulated by Cinetel Productions Limited, the company which produced the documentary. The prospectus was circulated to raise money for the production of Where Death Wears A Smile. An Internet search is also instructive.
10. Paul Rea, op cit.
11. Paul Rea prompted a pivotal editorial in the Newcastle Herald. See: "A Needed Goal", August 2 1979. The editorial also referred to the newspaper's campaign to obtain justice for Australian concentration camp prisoners.
12. Agreement document, August 2 1984, between Frank Heimans and Paul Rea on the one part and Alexander McClelland. Document copy in author's possession.
13. Jurgen Corleis, Interview, Sydney, April 27 2004. Mr. Corleis was the author and director of the film shown to visitors at the Bergen-Belsen memorial. He has produced other films on the Nazi era and has general expertise in the area of Nazi war crimes.
14. Paul Rea, letter to Alex McClelland, February 20 1984.
15. Hermann Weissing, on Where Death Wears A Smile.
16. Walter Steilberg, on Where Death Wears A Smile.
17. Timothy Luke, "Memorialising Mass Murder: Entertainability At The United States Holocaust Museum", Arena Journal, No.6, 1996, pp. 123 – 143. This crucial article discussed rendering atrocity data into pure entertainment; its' categories are applicable here.
18. Paul Rea, letter to Mrs. Sutton-Shaw, October 5 1982.
19. State Prosecutor Maas, letter to James Saleam, October 6 2003; State Prosecutor Maas, letter to Alexander McClelland, October 11 2002.
20. The three Mittelmann statements, in English translation, are in the author's posession.
21. The author understands the principles of stylometry. I have conducted cases before the Court of Criminal Appeal and the Supreme Court in New South Wales and have researched documents in post-graduate studies, I do not pretend to be a recognised 'expert' in the field. However, I call such practical expertise in aid of the analysis.
22. Andrew Lohrey, "A Linguistic Analysis Of Evan Pederick's Evidence In The Hilton Bombing Case". Travesty: Miscarriages Of Justice. Sydney: Academics For Justice, 1991, pp. 104 - 130. This analysis of statement material in a notorious Australian criminal process is a classic and the illustrated method was employed here.
23. The documents are in the author's possession. Given that McClelland has referred to these items in correspondence with the German prosecutorial authorities and their quality vis a vis the documentary etc., I have no reason to doubt their general accuracy.
24. Dr. Vojtech Blodig, e-mail letter to author, 29 November 2003
25. Frank Heimans and Paul Rea, letter to The Sun Herald, August 23 1998.
26. C-D Rom disk, in possession of author. I-Do Productions, letter to author, October 3 2003, concerning their work on the disk.
27. The document, on hotel notepaper, is in the possession of Mr. Jurgen Corleis. He allowed me to make notes of the seven paragraphs of questions.
28. Paul Rea, "Australians In The Living Grave", The National Times, May 24 - 30 1985, pp. 24 - 25.
29. Cyril Collins, letter to "Mr. Wilson", undated. A letter from Margaret Collins to Alexander McClelland, undated. explains the letter of her "late husband" to the "Foreign Office". McCleland dates the correspondence from Cryil to about 1970 and Margaret to about 1973. Walter Steilberg, letter to Alexander McClelland, October 15 1984.
30. Alexander C. McClelland. The Answer: Justice. Toronto: The Historical Review Press, 1995.
31. Peter Bowers, "For NX732, The Long War Was Only Half The Battle," Sydney Morning Herald, April 23 1993.
32. Paul Rea, "Diggers From The Camps", Reader's Digest, March 1987, p. 25.
33. Dr. Vojtech Blodig, e-mail letter to author, 29 November 2003.
34. Dr. Vojtech Blodig, e-mail letter to author, 1 March 2004; Vojtech Blodig, "Stefan Rojko pred soudon", in Terezinskestudie a dokumenty, 1977.
35. Copied index and e-mail letter from Dr. Blodig referring to their dispatch, in author's posession.
36. Czechoslovak Central State Archives, letter to Alexander McClelland, 21 May 1979. This document, a certified translation, is in the author's possession.
37. British National Archives File WO 311/199 ("Theresienstadt Concen-tration Camp Germany: Ill-treatment Of British POW’s"). A copy of this file is now in the author’s possession. All affidavits referred to are located in this file.
38. Alexander McClelland recounted his dealings with Neave on this very question. On the compensation of British prisoners of war in the Nazi concentration camp system see: House Of Lords Library File, AN 377 ("Prisoners Of War: Compensation For Victims Of Nazi Persecution").
39. "Accountability Not Revenge", Weiner Zeitung, May 25 2001.
40. The papers, entitled "Anklage Und Urteil Gagen Stefan Rojko, Ehemaliger Gefangnizwarter In KZ Theresienstadt, Wagen Mifhandlung Von Haftlinger, 5.7.63. They were provided courtesy of Dr. Elisabeth Klamper at the Dokumentationsarchiv of the Austrian Resistance and passed to me by way of the Austrian General Consulate in Sydney. The author discussed Rojko with her by telephone in December 2003 and by e-mail; Paul Rea, "Australians In The Living Grave", p. 25.
41. Landesgericht Graz: 4 Vr 2132/62; The Web sites are sites of qualitywww.nachkriegjustiz.at/prozesse/geschworening/35/prozesse56.o4php (At point 15, we note Rojko’s name and a record of his imprisonment offences.) www.ebensee.org (Austrian World War II And Nazi History Museum).
42. Megan Hutching, e-mail letter to author, 5 March 2004.
43. The Official History Of New Zealand In The Second World War 1939 - 1945, New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, Internet, December 20 2003.
44. Australian Military Personnel Serving Abroad Statistics Page at: www.awm.gov.au
45. Telephone Conversation between Dr. Peter Stanley and the author, April 15 2004.
46. Terezin's Small Fortress, leaflet of the Terezin Memorial, undated, but forwarded to the author by a visitor in 2003.
47. Dr. Vojtech Blodig, e-mail letter to author, 1 March 2004
48. Terezin's Small Fortress. Dr. Vojtech Blodig, e-mail letter to author, 29 November 2003.
49. Handwritten summary (translation) of a letter by Dr. H.D. Adler to Cinetel Productions, 1984. This letter was given to the author by Jurgen Corleis.
50. Honza Petrovic and Susan Matchett, The Gestapo Prison At Theresien, no publication details, 1978. This document in English appears to be a full historical briefing for Cinetel. It also reports prisoners murdered at the anti-tank ditch between March 16 - 28, but the number of British killed "remains unknown". It also reported the removal of British prisoners on April 4 1945.
51. Konrad Kweit, op cit.