Were Australian, British And New Zealand Prisoners Of War Massacred At Theresienstadt Concentration Camp In 1945?

A Rejoinder To The Statement Of Messrs. Heimans And Rea

Dr. Jim Saleam

November 12 2005


This article will undergo slight editing between November 12 and December 1 for final accuracy and clarity. Editors.

In October 2004, I published an article disputing a claim that up to forty Australian, New Zealand and British prisoners of war, held in the ‘Small Fortress’ prison at Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, were massacred in 1945. The article appeared on two Web Sites. At first, it excited only a small volume of debate on some military history chat-rooms located in cyberspace. In March 2005, I addressed on this subject to the New South Wales Military Historical Society, at Sydney’s Victoria Army Barracks. In May 2005, Despatch, journal of the Society, published a slightly edited version of the article.

Essentially, I had critiqued the massacre story advanced in the television documentary, Where Death Wears A Smile (1985). As time wore on after the release of the article, it was to be expected that more people would question this story or debate the facts. That was certainly the hope of Alexander McClelland, an elderly veteran of Theresienstadt’s ‘Small Fortress’ prison. After all, it was McClelland who commissioned the research and who had felt aggrieved by the original documentary. It had been McClelland who had first raised the issue of the imprisonment of Australian prisoners of war in the Nazi concentration camp system to a disbelieving Australian government. On this basis he participated in the production of the documentary in the hope it would focus public attention on this unknown history. He felt "used" by the producers who concealed the massacre claim from him. Thence McClelland demanded redress and went on to protest the claim made in the film that Australians and other Allied prisoners of war had been massacred at Theresienstadt. McClelland commissioned a research project to finally shatter the massacre allegation.

The publication of the article in Despatch drew a response from the producers of the documentary, Frank Heimans and Paul Rea. They rightly chose to address their criticisms of my article to Despatch, which in August 2005, allowed them a nine page reply. If they had failed to reply, they were consenting to my version. It was proper that the journal continue the debate.

The reply was a remarkable document. It was a formal statement of position. As I shall demonstrate, it was also an ‘own goal’ in the disintegration of the massacre allegation.

They said that my article "shows that a well-conducted forensic examination of the evidence relevant to the alleged massacre is warranted. We can assure him this research is continuing….". Indeed. This debate will go on and on until, hammered by the steady accruing of data, the truth will force a surrender.

Heimans and Rea state that I have made "mistakes". I am sure I have. I was warned by McClelland that in his experience in this affair, any mistake would be seized upon to discredit the central argument. Nonetheless, as the reply showed, these mistakes (sic) did not weaken the thrust of the argument.

 

Subtle Character Assassination Of Saleam And McClelland: A Big Diversion.

Heimans and Rea noted that I had offered criticism of their methods. They registered angst at my suggestion that they falsified their evidence (as below) and therefore I am said to have offended their professional integrity. As this matter grinds on (and it will), they will be compelled to restore the public perception of their integrity by repudiating the documentary. Right now, they are loath to do this. Hence, I cannot help their offence. Indeed, now that the evidence is weighing heavier against their position, Heimans and Rea can be judged on the basis of their continued defence of the indefensible.

In an attempt to misdirect the argument, they note that I was the director of the (1980’s) "far right" party, "National Action". There is an allusion to "his public activities and achievements" which can be found on the Internet. I suspect they mean – the rather large volume of smut directed at me by persons who may share these gentlemen’s broad liberal political outlook. However, one should not complain. That’s life. Yet, what does it prove? Anyone may compose history and if it is done according to the proper standard, then it is what it purports to be. It is also implied that I might harbour an anti-semitic agenda through my criticism of any effort designed to achieve the ‘Australianisation of the Holocaust’; indeed, I definietely suggest this was achieved in the documentary. In fact, I do not adhere to anti-semitism, and even if I did, it would not alter the question of whether Allied prisoners of war were murdered by the Nazis at Theresienstadt.

Heimans and Rea are seemingly on firmer ground in attacking the character of McClelland. They point out that McClelland is a "Holocaust revisionist" and that he is the "initial source on the allegation issue." We know that the "denial" of the Holocaust story is challenged by the historians and I make no comment on McClelland’s particular opinions. I said that at the start. The massacre matter is a war-crime pure and simple and can – and should – be investigated outside of the Holocaust framework.

Rather, I would make two necessary points on this issue. First, McClelland may believe the earth is flat if he wishes, but none of this detracts from the evidence he had collected. Second, Heimans and Rea relied on McClelland at various points of the story prior to 1985; they were happy to ‘use’ him in their documentary and otherwise support his claim of incarceration in Theresienstadt’s Small Fortress. It seems they parted company when he ran foul of their massacre allegation. He did that in 1985, long before he ever encountered the so-called Holocaust revisionists. If McClelland was credible in the documentary – why is he incredible if he repudiates the massacre claim?

In the same vein, Heimans and Rea asserted that Saleam had possibly made a "claim beneath contempt" in suggesting certain persons, including some Jewish community members close to the production of the discredited book Stoker, had contributed to the financing of the film. They implicitly deny this. They further say that this financing was arranged prior to them finding material to maintain that a massacre had occurred at Theresienstadt and I was therefore wrong in maintaining otherwise. They argue that I am trying to say obliquely that these (Jewish) persons wished to use the Holocaust experience for some purpose, but that I am being coy about my position. They suggest "McClelland says it for him" (more or less) by pursuing Holocaust revisionism!

Even so, it had been Rea in a letter to McClelland who broached the idea that members of the Jewish community had supported the film. Why did they do this? If I have made some mistake of "chronology" in this matter (ie. Heimans and Rea did not know of the massacre story before they arranged financing) or if I have been unable to show who exactly financed the film (I relied on hearsay from McClelland and if Heimans and Rea do not volunteer their sponsorship, then I cannot really say), then this is a ‘mistake’ in any assessment of the their purposes. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Jewish Museum in Sydney has regularly shown their documentary and considers it in some unclarified manner a part of the Holocaust experience. The massacre matter is quite separate from the Holocaust – and that is my point. Yet I cannot escape the impression this was not the result and the two became blurred, thereby achieving the 'Australianisation of the Holocaust'.

 

The Credibility Of Mittelmann: Untenable Defences

Quite rightly, Heimans and Rea observe that the Small Fortress was an unpleasant institution and they spend some two pages documenting the inhumanity of the prison regime and the general conditions at Theresienstadt, particularly in the latter phase of the war. I hardly dispute any of that.

Given it is essentially Mittelmann upon whom the whole story depends, Heimans and Rea felt obliged to defend him. Several means were employed in their reply.

First, Heimans and Rea tell us that I was "drawn to gratuitously insult Mittelmann along ideological lines, describing him as a ‘conscious liar dredged up by the communists’". Of course, I raised that as a real possibility, given the Cold War context of the trial of camp guard Stefan Rojko over this massacre (and for other crimes). Rojko was acquitted of the massacre charge at his trial in 1963 - as Heimans and Rea well knew at the time they produced the documentary (and which the documentary did not comment upon). Mittelmann was a citizen of Czechoslovakia used for a trial in Austria at a singular time in history. They do not even consider the political manipulation of the Mittelmann evidence as any possibility.

Second: Heimans and Rea revealed a fascinating detail concerning Mittelmann. I had concluded that Mittelmann was not imprisoned in the Small Fortress to witness certain matters as no Mittelmann was recorded there on the roll of prisoners. I was informed by the Terezin Memorial there were three ‘Moritz Mittelmann’ persons recorded in the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

We are now told: "Mittelmann …. was in the Small Fortress from September 1944 until 1945 under an assumed name to keep his Jewish ancestry secret. An explicit statement to this effect is contained in the Dortmund papers. Dr. Saleam has seen these papers so why does he not mention this? Presumably because he wants to put the sole witness far away from the site to imply doubts that he saw the events …."

In point of fact, I had not examined the papers held at Dortmund’s war crimes office. I merely corresponded with the German authorities.

But back to business: why did Mittelmann do this? According to the reply, the prisoners digging the anti-tank trap "were drawn from the Small Fortress not Theresienstadt." Given the number of Jews at the trap, then obviously by this logic, many Jews were imprisoned in the Small Fortress. There was no advantage in concealing one's ethnic identity? Even so, I find it difficult to aceept the Nazis might not have employed ghetto labour.

We are again dealing with shadows. If Mittelmann says he was under an assumed name, how do we know that he was ever there at all? Perhaps he took the name of a real person or invented one of his own, as Heimans and Rea would have it, or possibly he advanced the name of an actual inmate later, when this inmate was no longer around to rebut it? If it was true that Mittelmann did any of this, he reveals himself as a master of subterfuge.

The situation is becoming more fantastic. The production of the German papers might assist us here, but really, it does not greatly help after this lapse of time. Is this ‘assumed name’ on the roll of Small Fortress prisoners? Was the "explicit statement", just one further piece of self-corroboration by Mittelmann?

Third: Heimans and Rea agree that "close examination of Mittelmann’s statements reveal serious inconsistencies."

Really, no other conclusion is possible. If this is accepted now, it should have been discerned also when the documentary was under production. It probably was and this has been more or less admitted elsewhere. However, I must ask why is it that these inconsistencies are still to be put aside to pursue a massacre hypothesis, particularly when Heimans and Rea are now prepared to look for an entirely different set of massacre victims (see next section)?

Fourth: Heimans and Rea are prepared to accept my hypothesis that the real Mittelmann may have been confused by an actual massacre. "Perhaps the sudden withdrawal of a group of Allied POW’s from the tank trap (mid-March) and their sudden group departure from the prison a few weeks later (early April) was wrongly associated by Mittelmann with the documented execution of 53 people from a Czech Marxist youth organisation inside Terezin on 2 May 1945".

Indeed, this may be a basis for Mittelmann’s particular moral certainty in his story-telling.

These concessions lend further weight to the conclusions of the main article. Basically, Mittelmann’s evidence is worth nothing at all.

The Search For Another Explanation Of The Facts: Two New Scenarios.

Heimans and Rea tacitly concede that Mittelmann may be wrong about many things, but say that he might have identified (even at this late hour) another massacre of Allied prisoners We are reminded of the "chaos in this time and place", with "hundreds of thousands of people on the move." It is said that "passing through this region were "tens of thousands of Allied POW's from the evacuated camps." On these bases,, two new scenarios are offered to us.

We are to ponder over the uncertain fate of a group of men from Konigstein camp or the possibility of the victims being some unknown men who absconded from an unspecified location, "a staging point" at Koniggratz

Heimans and Rea state: "According to the International Tracing Service (Red Cross) inspection report in late 1944, 32 ‘British’ … POW’s, including paratroopers, was shanghaied from other camps and sent to Konigstein for reasons unknown and held in special detention …. At the time of the Red Cross’s next visit … this group … had disappeared and the only information that could be obtained about them was the entire group had been transferred elsewhere."

Again, if these men arrived at the Small Fortress and were unregistered, we have many of the same problems that I alluded to in the main article. The Nazis supposedly murdered just this precise group of men (which might therefore, account for the lack of records)? Where were the bodies? Did they go into the same excavated pit I referred to in the main article? No bodies were found. The story contradicts Mittelmann’s other evidence.

Heimans and Rea also ask if it was possible "Mittelmann misheard the officer" who told him an escape story and in fact they were talking of Koniggraz, "a staging point for tens of thousands" of prisoners and a place about one hundred kilometres from Theresienstadt. We are then asked: if some of these men escaped? if some of these men were recaptured and sent to Theresienstadt,? to work in the anti-tank trap? were not entered up in the Small Fortress register? and could be the murdered men? It is said "these possible scenarios arise directly from Mittelmann’s evidence but appear to be of little interest to Dr. Saleam."

Many things are always possible, but this is going to the farther reaches of reason. Again, it should be recalled that none of this matches with Mittelmann'’s murder script. The tank trap murder script is centred on a certain time frame and on the British prisoners interviewed by the Judge Advocate General; the work is dated to March 23 or thereabouts. They left the camp on April 4. The events described by Mittelmann also included Australians (first statement) and then Australians and New Zealanders (second and third statements). Perhaps only in his court evidence did he mention British prisoners? Weissing mentioned British prisoners. We are now placing the murders very late in the period the trap was under construction and well after German authorities had intervened to release the 'earlier' (sic) large group of Allied prisoners from the work. It would not be likely the Germans would commit another mass error in applying newly arrived prisoners to such labour.

Why should we be looking for other scenarios? The main story has collapsed and it is the main story which all sides were talking about. Is it not clear enough that Mittelmann is simply – without credibility?

 

A Number Of Crucial ‘Concessions’.

Heimans and Rea have made a number of crucial concessions to the argument raised in my article. I shall catalogue them in my own sequence.

(i) Walter Steilberg. Heimans and Rea state that I claimed they "invited" the viewer of their documentary "to accept that Walter Steilberg …was describing the event alleged by Mittelmann when in fact he was describing quite separate deaths he witnessed at the tank trap." They then say: "It was never our intention to use Steilberg’s experience to corroborate the Mittelmann allegation and we did not invite the viewers to make this assumption. Steilberg spoke about separate individual deaths by beating and shooting, not about the massacre of a group."

The readers have probably not viewed the documentary and cannot employ personal observation. Unfortunately, the viewer could only really have reached an opinion that Steilberg was corroborating a massacre story. The film was a smooth product whereby the subtle process of seduction was employed. Data flowed together to create an impression of Nazi crime in a hell-hole. In that way, the viewer was ‘invited’ to accept an erroneous conclusion. Why put it there otherwise? If it was only essntial background to show the basic inhumanity of the Small Fortress, this should have been made clear – and it was not.

I note that Heimans and Rea are now saying that Steilberg was referring to something else. That is to the good.

(ii) No Other Witnesses To The Massacre

Immediately following the above commentary, Heimans and Rea wrote: "Not a single Allied ex-POW we contacted during our research said they witnessed a massacre."

This of course, as was noted above, leaves us only with the testimony of Mittelmann.

This obvious concession is important in the construction here. It follows that, reasonably, once the two researchers had the information concerning the massacre, they either realised no one else had volunteered information congruent with the allegation and/or they went back to the witnesses and asked again. If they did the latter, it should have set off the proverbial alarm bells. It is clear from McClelland that they did not ask him about a massacre. It may follow they asked no one? As below, the say they relied on the German prosecutor Hermann Weissing, who apparently concurred with the story and they now say, told them of it first. If that is the case, it is still surprising they did not ask the veterans, especially McClelland and Steilberg. After all, if they had - and the former prisoners of war had agreed the massacre did happen - the program would have been sensational and final.

I cannot escape the conclusion that Heimans and Rea – had doubts. Is this why they failed to ask McClelland and Steilberg? Yet, whatever the case may be, they recognise now their case rests on only two pieces of material: Mittelmann says it happened (sometime!) and Weissing (somehow!) agreed with him.

(iii) The British National Archives

In June 2004, Heimans and Rea attended the British National Archives which "lead us to agree that no surviving Allied ex-POW’s from Terezin witnessed the alleged massacre" and after reading the records of the Judge Advocate General’s investigations into Nazi war crimes in Czechoslovakia "agree it contains no reference to an alleged massacre of British or Commonwealth POW’s."

This material was adjudged by me as final in the case, although Heimans and Rea (as we have seen) are not ultimately convinced. Even so, the concession that the reliable Judge Advocate General’s records reveal nothing of the massacre incident suggests forcefully that the position taken by the documentary is wrong. I note too that Heimans and Rea do not take any issue with my theory Mittelmann fabricated the story by reference to these very documents which were in the possession of the Czech authorities (!)

(iv) A German Guard.

Heimans and Rea refer to "a statement dated October 1979 from a former Terezin guard who said that Allied POW’s (he refers to 28 New Zealanders) were sent to work at the tank trap and were recalled on the second day. He said their number was complete."

This too is useful in settling this question.

(v) The Testimony Of Canadian Professor Dr. Adalbert Lallier

This article is necessarily indebted to Heimans and Rea for any evidence such that (in their words) "further doubt is cast on Mittelmann’s testimony." The evidence offered here was totally unknown to me.

Lallier was a Waffen SS officer cadet from the Signals School at Leitomolice, present at the tank trap. In 2001, it seems, he gave evidence against his former commanding officer, Julian Viel, who murdered seven prisoners. This officer was convicted and sentenced.

Heimans and Rea give witness to "further correspondence" (with them?) about the alleged massacre. "His response was that in his opinion it would be highly unlikely that any of his fellow cadets would have been involved in any such incident involving 40 POW’s."

This is important. If Lallier was willing to testify in a war crimes case, he would have no objection to advancing material about a massacre – if one had occurred. The opinion of a serving German soldier, given the overall circumstances, must carry weight. If the SS officer cadets did not kill the forty POW’s, then, who did? That point was discussed by Rea in his National Times article in May 1985. He offered the ‘fact‘ that the discipline amongst the young German cadets had broken down – an obvious ingredient in any massacre scenario. He did say at that time these men did the killings; it was rather just one more brick in the wall of a scene set for murder. This picture was replicated in the reply, with very graphic assertions that these "young people, some of them teenagers who took this opportunity - perhals their first opportunity, perhaps their last - to shoot at live targets." However, this somewhat conflicts with Lallier’s opinion which must refer in some way to the moral quality of the cadets and the general circumstances. It seems if further correspondence had been entered into, then every rock was being turned to find possible killers, a situation which in my view points to a desperate search to finger-point in a story losing cogency.

(vi) The Matter Of Walter Riley

The testimony of Tasmanian POW Walter Riley was advanced by Rea in his article in Reader’s Digest. I analysed this in the first article. Riley maintained that he saw the murder of an Allied prisoner of war.

Significantly, as is now pointed out, Riley may have been at the Small Fortress after the British main group was marched out on April 4 1945.

He purportedly saw an "English-speaking POW who was wearing an Air Force (not RAAF) greatcoat…" I see no real reason to object to the notion that an Allied officer (there are other suggestions it was an officer) was present at the camp at this late stage (McClelland was still there with other Australians), nor that one might have been shot. If this is so, as Heimans and Rea reasonably say, it is "a highly specific event also recalled by Mittelmann". However, as I observed in the main article, Riley did not see a mass shooting occur straight afterwards.

Riley does not confirm the original Mittelmann charge, but rather, complicates it. We may now be hunting for the facts relating to the murder a single British prisoner of war. It is possible that Mittelmann heard of this event in any number of ways. Was it "recalled" by Mittelmann or simply ‘known’ of by Mittelmann?

I can only agree with Heimans and Rea that there "is considerable doubt as to the numbers of Allied POW’s held at Terezin". Obviously, there may have been a prisoner ‘available’ and therefore the murder mentioned by Riley is a real possibility.

 

Sticking With Weissing

The high point of Where Death Wears A Smile was the statement of German war crimes’ prosecutor, Hermann Weissing, that he believed "this incident did take place". I have dissected this phase of the documentary and found a number of shortcomings in the significance of Weissing’s words and the text from which he apparently was reading.

First: Heimans and Rea agree that their interview with Weissing included at the vital point of confirmation of the murder thesis, an edited reply.

I understand they object to any suggestion from me that they have falsified Weissing’s statement by editing. They do concede they "overlaid for audio quality reasons" the key question and answer – which is of course, a known film technique.

Yet they have not explained what it was that Weissing was reading from as clearly, the version of events he was describing was not Mittelmann’s statement evidence. This alone causes disquiet.

Second: Heimans and Rea ask rhetorically, "Should we have excluded this remarkable disclosure from our film until further exhaustive research was carried out? This was a matter of judgement and we believe we were correct to include it. We had and we still have no reason to doubt Mr. Weissing’s veracity or his authority to express a professional view … For this reason his comment ‘I am quite certain this incident did take place’ - was allowed to stand".

However, in making this reply Heimans and Rea have not confronted the current dismissive view held the same war crimes office. More seriously, they have not addressed the ‘professional’ view of Dr. Blodig of the Terezin Memorial who said that no massacre took place, this expert also being competent in the personal history of the alleged murderer, Stefan Rojko.

Third: If Heimans and Rea are now putting forward an entirely new massacre scenario, then where does that leave Weissing’s opinion? One cannot have it both ways.

Fourth: I am troubled by the chronology. If Heimans and Rea did not know of the massacre story until Weissing told them, then why did they go to his office, or even contact him in the first place? The imprisonment of the Australians in the Small Fortress was illegal, but not more than that. Was it general curiosity? Had something already been said? I noted in the article some quite elaborate research done on Theresienstadt which included information on the possible killings of Allied POW's. Whatever the case, the Weissing interview was journalistic pay-dirt and it should have encouraged further research. Why? Because it would have (if true) yielded even greater historical rewards for the documentary-producers. There seems a 'haste' in this matter, a blurring of evidence. Whichever way, there was evidence that Heimans and Rea tried to find out about Rojko and they expressed interest in his trial. If they did this before seeing Weissing, then they went to get corroboration from him; if it was afterwards, they continued to investigate for corroboration. Either way, the evidence was patchy and contradictory and it is here I believe that Heimans and Rea went for the sensational. That must be the reason why Weissing's interview was left to stand.

The problem with Weissing now is that his ‘opinion’ is utterly discredited. To resort to it now as a defence is hardly reasonable.

Conclusion: Give It Up!

Messrs. Heimans and Rea promise to continue to research the issue. Possibly new data will emerge on the whole affair of the Allied prisoners of war at Theresienstadt. If so, that is positive. However, what will obviously not emerge will be any credible evidence either confirming the massacre of the original forty prisoners or of any other similar mass incident involving Allied prisoners of war.

A critical examination of the reply, in conjunction with the original article, shows us a number of things.

Given that Heimans and Rea have accepted the problems with Mittelmann’s evidence and have tried to hypothesise for a different massacre, have pointed us in the direction of new evidence that excludes Mittelmann’s version and ultimately problematicized their own reliance on Weissing, I can only say that it is surely time to give it up.

What should happen now? I believe that Heimans and Rea should satisfy themselves as to the facts. That is only fair and reasonable. Thence, they should cause the documentary to be withdrawn from sale; they should write to the New York Television And Film Festival and request their award be revoked; they should publish their opinion that there was no massacre of Allied prisoners of war at the Small Fortress.

Such are the demands of the historian. However, I believe Heimans and Rea owe Alexander McClelland much more. To resist the truth for so many years (and to continue to do so) by blackening McClelland is a blot on the very professional integrity they have invoked. They can only gain by that review of the evidence and by coming to an equitable settlement of issues with him.

Homepage