Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 2   09-Dec-1994   Celebrating Hitler's Birthday
December 9, 1994

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Vienna, Austria

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

I call to your attention the following passage from Alan Levy's The Wiesenthal File:

On Tuesday, 20 April 1943, Wilhaus decided to celebrate Adolf Hitler's fifty-fourth birthday by sacrificing fifty-four Jewish intellectuals.  There were, however, only some forty professional men and women left in Janowskà, so Wilhaus ordered a round-up of others who were on work assignments outside the camp.  ...  When attendance was complete, six SS men one of them carrying a submachine-gun marched the prisoners through the barbed-wire corridor, two abreast.  ...  The fifty-four naked men and women stood in a single row along the rim as the executioner lifted his submachine-gun and began to mow them down with one burst apiece.  ...  "Follow me!" the corporal commanded and, to Simon's amazement, led him back out through 'The Pipe' for the first and last time any prisoner ever made a round trip.  ...  The executioner ... was flabbergasted.  He was supposed to shoot fifty-four people, not fifty-three.  "What do we do now?" he asked the corporal.

"Continue!" the corporal commanded.  Before Wiesenthal was out of earshot, fifty-three Jews were dead.  He never asked if the SS found a fifty-fourth, but suspects they did.  ...  The corporal marched him to a warehouse, where the truck had not yet unloaded his clothing or the fifty-three other piles to be fumigated for redistribution.  After dressing quickly, he was escorted back to the railway works where he had started his day an eternity ago.

Kohlrautz was grinning from ear to ear as he welcomed Simon back.  ...  "You know, Simon," said Kohlrautz a few minutes later, "it's not only Hitler's birthday today, but it's yours, too."  (Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File, 1993, pp. 48-49)

The above event, I would imagine, makes it next to impossible to forget how many Jews were executed on the day in question it is the same as Hitler's age (though it might be one less).  This mnemonic, however, is not foolproof, as it is still possible to forget exactly how old Hitler was on that day it might be possible, for example, to erroneously imagine that Hitler was 53 that day, or 57.  Still, the mnemonic does set a limit on how deviant any erroneous recollection of the number of Jews executed that day might be for example, if we can be certain that Hitler could not have been 80, we can also be certain that 80 Jews could not have been executed.

What, then, are we to make of the following account of the same event?

On 20 April 1943 ... Wiesenthal and three other men were collected early in the morning....  The SS intended to celebrate the Führer's birthday with a sacrifice of Jews.

Those selected for execution by shooting, about twenty men, were made to stand by the so-called "tube" a two-metre-wide corridor between barbed wire fences.  (Peter Michael Lingens in Simon Wiesenthal, Justice Not Vengeance, 1989, p. 9)

My hypothesis that any erroneous recollection of the number of Jews executed on the day in question would be confined within the limits of Hitler's probable age seems to have been disconfirmed, as we know that Hitler could not possibly have been twenty.

I wonder if you would care to comment on this discrepancy?

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak