The origin of the gas-van myth?

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simon1003
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The origin of the gas-van myth?

Postby simon1003 » 1 decade 2 years ago (Thu Jan 17, 2008 4:22 pm)

I know wikipedia doesn't come close to the best source for much, but buried in the page about Stalinist Purges (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge) in the 1930s is this little nugget:

'For example, one secret policeman gassed people to death in batches in the back of a specially adapted airtight van.[5]'

Footnote 5 refers to - ^ Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia by Catherine Merridale. Penguin Books, 2002 ISBN 0142000639 p. 200

Does anyone have this book, could they enlighten us to the actual passages that this gas-van story comes from?

It would be nice to have concrete evidence that gas-vans were some sort of Soviet contraption that they later tried to pin on the Germans.

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Postby Laurentz Dahl » 1 decade 2 years ago (Thu Jan 17, 2008 8:34 pm)

simon1003 wrote:I know wikipedia doesn't come close to the best source for much, but buried in the page about Stalinist Purges (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge) in the 1930s is this little nugget:

'For example, one secret policeman gassed people to death in batches in the back of a specially adapted airtight van.[5]'

Footnote 5 refers to - ^ Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia by Catherine Merridale. Penguin Books, 2002 ISBN 0142000639 p. 200

Does anyone have this book, could they enlighten us to the actual passages that this gas-van story comes from?

It would be nice to have concrete evidence that gas-vans were some sort of Soviet contraption that they later tried to pin on the Germans.


The hypothesis that gas vans were in fact used by the Soviets and later pinned on the Germans was advanced in Ingrid Weckert's gas van article:

Gas vans, if they even existed, were not a "special creation of the Third Reich". The Soviet dissident Pjotr Grigorenko speaks of 'death vans' in his memoirs. He recounts what a former friend, Vasili Ivanovich Tesslia, had told him. In the late 1930s, this Vasili Ivanovich had been an inmate in the prison of Omsk, and from his cell he observed how a Soviet prison transport, a so-called "Black Raven", drove into the prison yard. A group of prisoners had to get in and the truck left, to return about a quarter of an hour later.

"The wardens opened the door: black clouds of smoke rushed out, and dead bodies toppled onto the ground one on top of the other."[11]

The documentary value of this hearsay story may not be very great - even though Nolte rates it as 'evidence'.[12] The claim itself, however, recently received some astonishing corroboration.[13] In spring 1993, a four-part television series dealing with the Soviet Union was broadcast in the United States. The title was "Monster: A Portrait of Stalin in Blood". In the second part of this series, subtitled "Stalin's Secret Police", the former KGB officer Alexander Michailov was quoted as saying that gas vans, or trucks, had already been invented before the war, in Moscow, by one Isai Davidovich Berg, and had been used by the KGB. If this statement is true, then the 'gas vans' are a Soviet invention, not a German one. This fits in with the fact that the Soviets were the first to ever make any mention of 'death vans' or 'murder vans'.

http://vho.org/GB/Books/dth/fndwagon.html

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Postby bridgebuilder » 1 decade 2 years ago (Thu Jan 17, 2008 8:52 pm)

From Rayfield, Donald "Stalin and his Hangmen", Viking 2004 and Penguin 2005, p.303.
In 1937, some time before Hitler, Stalin's NKVD hit on gassing as a means of mass execution. Lorries advertising bread drove around the Urals, pumping exhaust gases into the rear compartment where naked prisoners lay roped together in stacks, until their loads were ready for burial pits.


Rayfield's book is terrific. Moderator permitting, I shall post some more passages later.

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Postby bridgebuilder » 1 decade 2 years ago (Thu Jan 17, 2008 9:08 pm)

Rayfield, Donald "Stalin and his Hangmen", Penguin, 2005, p.75.

In late 1919, when the Cheka spawned its provincial and departmental offspring - railways, factories and military units as well as districts, parishes and towns got their own Cheka units - executions in the open were abandoned. A shot in the back of the neck in a cellar or garage became standard practice. Lenin himself received a suit, a pair of boots, a belt and braces worn by a victim of the Moscow Cheka. Underwear went to Red Army soldiers or Cheka prisoners. Gold teeth were prised from corpses. (Mikhail Frinovsky, a chekist who was to become notorious in the Great Terror of 1931 and whose teeth were kicked out by a recalcitrant prisoner, had himself a complete set of implants made from the gold teeth of his victims.)


In most cases, Rayfield's book is referenced to his sources.

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Postby jnovitz » 1 decade 2 years ago (Tue Jan 22, 2008 11:58 am)

I have seen some accounts, but they are all anecdotal. No documents or actual vehicles or descriptiion of vehicle or use in NKVD archives.

The gas van propaganda story was far bigger in the Soviet Union than the West, it was the subject of the first major show trial in 1943.

My guess it is just cross-contamination rather than a real NKVD execution method.

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Postby bridgebuilder » 1 decade 2 years ago (Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:17 am)

My guess it is just cross-contamination rather than a real NKVD execution method.

Cross-contamination from what, pray? As opposed to your guess, my own rule of thumb is that anything genocidal of which the Germans were accused was in fact a projection of long-standing murder techniques already used and perfected over many years by the NKVD. Any horror imaginable was practised by the communist regime. Fingernail removal to assist confessions? Yes. Bone crushing of living prisoners? Yes. (That was routine.) Burial alive? Yes. (That happened to Yagoda.) Levering open of jaws with metal bars to break them and prevent speech? Yes. (That was shown in the corpses left behind by the NKVD in their hasty retreat from Smolensk.) Eye removal from living, recalcitrant prisoners? Yes. (That happened to Marshall Bluikher)

Appealing to "cross-contamination" is to assume that the Germans did similar things. But NOTHING of the accusations levelled against Germans at Nuremberg is proven, given the techniques allowed to extort evidence from defenceless prisoners and the fact that a Soviet judge complicit in the Katyn murders sat in judgement. Untill the whole cess-pit of accusations against Germans is given a genuinely objective and thorough forensic examination, any assumption that Germans did wicked things must be thoroughly resisted. So to claims of "cross-contamination", I simply say, "prove it!" The ancient Anglo-Saxon principle of jurisprudence is "innocent until proven guilty". In the absence of such proof, we English speakers must extend a presumption of German innocence. And what a can of worms THAT opens!

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Postby grenadier » 1 decade 2 years ago (Wed Jan 23, 2008 5:46 pm)

@bridgebuilder;

I think the projection thing is on much stronger grounds in the case of
mass shootings, a lot of the shootings the Soviets attributed to the
Germans were very likely their own work.

In the case of the gas vans however, we should be careful, Jnovitz has
made a very good point, there have been no finds in the partially opened
Soviet archives regarding gas vans nor were such vehicles ever found
to have really existed.

We must apply to the Soviets the same standarts we apply to the Nazis.

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Postby KostasL » 1 decade 2 years ago (Wed Jan 23, 2008 7:26 pm)

bridgebuilder wrote:
My guess it is just cross-contamination rather than a real NKVD execution method.

Any horror imaginable was practised by the communist regime. Fingernail removal to assist confessions? Yes. Bone crushing of living prisoners? Yes. (That was routine.) Burial alive? Yes. (That happened to Yagoda.) Levering open of jaws with metal bars to break them and prevent speech? Yes. (That was shown in the corpses left behind by the NKVD in their hasty retreat from Smolensk.) Eye removal from living, recalcitrant prisoners? Yes. (That happened to Marshall Bluikher)


Can you please post source of the above ?

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Postby bridgebuilder » 1 decade 2 years ago (Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:01 am)

One accumulates snippets over the years and chasing up their source takes time. My source for Bluykher was Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko's chiller "The time of Stalin - portrait of a tyranny" (Harper & Row, 1983, pp.190-90.) I will quote the entire relevant passage:

By the end of 1938, Stalin had not left a single proven commander alive. At the head of the armed forces stood the puppets Voroshilov, Budyonny, and Timoshenko, along with some hangmen from the establishment on Lubyanka Square, such as Frinovsky (people's commissar of the navy). Beneath them were Kulik and Shchadenko, participants in the destruction of the command staff. Finally, there was Lev Mekhlis, who had managed to become an old hand in political executions (the liquidation of the command staff of the Army of the Far East was his work, his and Frinovsky's). Stalin put him in charge of the political department of the Red Army.
That was the general staff.
A few commanders survived purely by chance.
Aleksandr Todorsky, the commander of the Fifth Corps, ended up, along with other military men of the same rank, in Lefortovo. A special "three judge tribunal," a sort of military equivalent of the NKVD's OSOs, efficiently dispatched one corps commander after another. There were a few minutes of trial ceremony, a short deliberation, a death sentence, and in the next room the victim was felled with a sledgehammer blow to the head. The bodies were thrown into the basement, where those who exhibited excessive vitality were given the coup de grace with a bullet.
Todorsky's turn came. Luckily, one of the three judges turned out to be an officer who had served with him. He asked the corps commander, "Is that you, Aleksandr Ivanovich?"
The tribunal was thrown into confusion. They consulted together, then handed down an extraordinary sentence -- fifteen years in prison.
General Aleksandr Gorbatov, author of published memoirs in which he did not fail to speak of his years in prison, was saved by Budyonny. The marshal's intervention was a unique case, but it enabled the corps commander to survive.
Only Stalin could have saved Vasily Blyukher. But since Stalin had given the command to liquidate the marshal, no one could save him. The Gensek had intended to kill him in the summer of 1937, but the military conflict in the Amur region got in the way. The blow suffered by the command staff of the Army of the Far East had encouraged Japan to reassert its claims to the borderlands. So, the following summer, Japan launched an attack in the Khasan Lake region. Blyukher was still needed. But the fighting ended, and on August 18, Blyukher flew to Moscow.
At the meeting of the Revolutionary Military Council, Blyukher was criticized for the military campaign he had just conducted. He was accused of letting it drag on. Moreover, he was supposed to have allowed heavy losses of men. The Politburo members, headed by the Master, attended this meeting. For the very first time Stalin remained silent; for the first time he failed to come to Blyukher's defense. Vasily Blyukher was removed from the council and from his post as commander of the Army of the Far East.
After the meeting, Klim Voroshilov tried to smooth things over. "Vasya, come to my villa in Sochi, take a rest. Later we will find proper work for you."
Blyukher put his savings in his wife's name.
"Now anything can happen to me.... Let them bury me in the earth of Volochayevka, where my heroic soldiers fought and fell."
Vasily Blyukher "rested" for a month and a half at Klim's villa in Sochi. What did he, a peasant's son, have to answer to the party for? He was the first in the country to get the Order of the Red Banner. And he had gotten three more since. There were the battles of Samara, Chelyabinsk, Tobolsk, Kakhovka, Perekop, Volochayevka.... And China -- hadn’t he, the chief military adviser of the revolutionary Soviet govemment, helped Sun Yat-sen build an army?
The marshal was arrested on October 22. In the Lubyanka, this "Japanese spy" was savagely tortured.
How many minutes does it take to get from Lubyanka Square to Theater Square in Moscow? Five? Ten? Today in the Hall of Columns at the Central House of Trade Unions, Lidia Ruslanova is performing. Her repertoire is Russian folk songs, old familiar songs. Then she begins to sing a marching song, a song of the soldiers of the Army of the Far East, Blyukher's favorite song:
Over the hills and through the valleys
Forward our divisions marched .. .

The singer waves a green gauze scarf, like a flag.
That was the romance of the partisan campaigns. But what about the everyday life here and now of the prisoners in the Lubyanka? The hangmen tore out one of Blyukher's eyes and put it in his palm.
"If you don't talk, we'll tear out the other."
Proof of this episode is recorded in the documents of the public prosecutor's office. With regard to the commander's final hour, only oral accounts remain. Taken to Beria's office, Blyukher lunged at the hangman and was shot down on the spot.


Bluykher, of course, was one of only 83,000 army commanders murdered by Stalin. Anonov-Ovseyenko reveals on p.135 that the politician Karl adek died by having his head crushed with a brick. I will post a reference for Yagoda's manner of dying as soon as I can locate it in my library.


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