August Becker (17 Aug. 1900 – 31 Dec. 1967), at war’s end an SS Obersturmführer, was a German Chemist who is said to have had a leading role in developing gas chambers for the Third Reich’s euthanasia program. Later, he was presumably assigned to Office II D 3a of wartime Germany’s Department of Homeland Security (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, RSHA), headed by Friedrich Pradel. This office was in charge of the Security Police’s motor pool.
The only known document in this context bearing Becker’s name is a letter dated 16 May 1942, presumably written by Becker. It is addressed to Walter Rauff personally, with no department or office mentioned. Rauff was the head of the RSHA’s Office II D, and as such, Pradel’s superior. Therefore, the address should have included exactly that information to reach its destination. However, that vital information is missing in that letter:
Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Amt II D.
This letter was presented by the prosecution during the International Military Tribunal as part of Document PS-501 (IMT, Vol. 26, pp. 102-105). The docket attached to it states that the letter was obtained from the British prosecution’s office, but that its origins are unknown.
The letter pretends to be an inspection and maintenance report of gas vans used by Einsatzgruppen D and C in Ukraine to execute Jews. It is riddled with absurdities which prove conclusively that this is a fake report unrelated to any possible real-world events:
- The document identifies gas vans of a second series as Saurer vehicles. However, there is no trace of any “first-series gas vans” not being Saurer vehicles deployed by the Einsatzgruppen. All vehicles in extant documents that are (falsely) associated with gas vans have been Saurer vehicles.
- By the time the RSHA ordered Saurer vehicles, this company equipped all its trucks with Diesel engines. However, Diesel-engine exhaust is non-lethal in the short run, hence unsuited for homicidal gassing operations using its exhaust gasses as is claimed.
- The letter asserts that, after just half an hour of rain, none of the Saurer vehicles could be driven anymore. Hence, they could be used in absolutely dry-weather condition only. This is absurd.
- The document asserts that the vans were “camouflaged” from the local populace by painting little fake-windows on its side. This is puerile and absurd, as it would have attracted more attention, not less.
- The author mentioned a damaged combined hydraulic-air-pressure brake due to a sleeve having broken in several places. While the Saurer trucks had hydraulic brakes, there is no such thing as a combined hydraulic-air-pressure brake. Moreover, any sleeves on that system were made of rubber and could develop leaks, but they would not break.
- Using bribes, the author claims that he managed to have a dye manufactured to cast new sleeves. However, leaky rubber sleeves could be fixed with rubber repair patches. Casting new, exactly fitting rubber sleeves using caoutchouc and vulcanizing chemicals in a dye was impossible in the field. Clearly, the author did not know what he was writing about.
- Due to many off-road trips, the author complains about rivets of the cargo-box becoming lose, and cracks forming, which needed to be sealed to prevent gas leaks. However, no gas van could ever be “sealed,” because the same volume of gas that was allegedly pumped into the cargo box as exhaust gas needed to escape from the box to prevent it from building up pressure and eventually exploding. Hence, little leaks would have been of little concern.
- The author suggests sealing small leaks by soldering them. However, that would have been futile, as soldering does not provide any firm connection of metal pieces. That would require welding. Again, the author exhibits his technical ignorance.
- The writer warns that the escaping exhaust gas might harm the executioners on the outside, so he warns everyone to stay away from the vehicle while gassing people. However, Diesel-engine exhaust gases escaping through various leaks of a cargo are of little consequence for people standing outside near the box. The Diesel-exhaust smell alone would tell people to stay away, for comfort’s sake.
- The letter states that gassings are performed wrongly by giving full throttle. This resulted in the victims suffocating rather than falling peacefully asleep. However, hot, stinking, smoking engine-exhaust gases cannot, under any circumstances, lead to gassing victims falling asleep peacefully. This could be accomplished only with odor- and colorless carbon monoxide at room-temperature.
This so-called Becker Document is the second document allegedly proving the existence of gas vans. The other one – the so-called Just Document – is a clear forgery. (See the entry on the Gaubschat Company.) This Just Document also pretends to report about the operation of gas vans, allegedly written on 5 June 1942, not even three weeks after the Becker Document. A comparison of both documents’ claims is revealing, as the table shows. Clearly, the forgers did not coordinate their efforts.
|Becker Document||Just Document|
|Reference to numerous flaws. No reference to openings for gas release.||Reports 97,000 executions, “without any defects in the vehicles becoming apparent.”|
|In spite of the numerous flaws, no changes to the vehicles are requested.||Although no defects had occurred, seven changes are requested (internal contradiction).|
|Reference to difficulties of moving the vans: during moist and rainy weather, the vans are inoperable.||Reference to a highly reduced off-road capability while fully loaded, resulting in the need to reduce the load.|
|Emphasizes the importance of keeping the cargo box hermetically sealed; it is even considered to send the vans to Berlin for this purpose.||The first of the requested changes concerns two slits of 1 cm × 10 cm to avoid high internal pressure.|
|The vans were “camouflaged” without attaining a permanent deception about their purpose.||No attempts at camouflage were implemented.|
|Thoroughly addresses the danger of the operating personnel inhaling the gases – although the cargo box is hermetically sealed.||No reference to such a danger.|
|The author wants to ascertain that the victims do not die of suffocation but die a humane death through falling asleep.||No efforts are made to induce a painless death of the victims.|
Becker was arrested by the West German judiciary in 1959 for his alleged role in the deployment of the gas vans. He made statements during several interrogations, among them:
- He claimed that as a Chemist, he had been put in charge of all the mechanical aspects of the gas vans. While that is what the Becker Document insinuates, the technical nonsense uttered in it also shows that whoever wrote it had no clue. Pradel, as motor-pool chief, never would have put a chemist in charge of vehicle mechanics.
- On the way to his gas-van inspection tour, Becker claims to have flown in Heinrich Himmler’s personal plane from Mikolaev to Simferopol, Crimea. However, Himmler most certainly would not have lent his plane to a small second lieutenant (Becker was only an SS Untersturmführer at that time).
- Once done in Simferopol, Becker then presumably flew to Minsk in another plane together with SS Hauptsturmführer Rühl, who allegedly headed an extermination camp run by the Einsatzgruppen near Minsk. Rühl was so kind as to give Becker a tour of the camp and allow him to watch mass executions. If that refers to the Maly Trostinets Camp near Minsk, this was run not by the local Einsatzgruppe, but by the commander of the German Security Police Minsk. Moreover, SS Hauptsturmführer Felix Rühl was a member of Einsatzgruppe D which operated in southern Ukraine and the Caucasus area. He would not have flown to Minsk and would not have given Becker a tour of the camp. Nobody would have done that.
- Becker repeated the nonsense about the gas-van operators doing it all wrong, suffocating rather than gassing the victims. He thus proved that he had been an avid student of the document levied against him, internalizing it to the point where he parroted its absurdities as his own memories.
Becker was supposed to stand trial together with Harry Wentritt in 1966 for their role in designing, building and deploying the so-called gas vans. However, since Becker suffered several strokes by that time, he was declared unfit for trial and incarceration. Later attempts to use him as a witness against other defendants were futile, as he was unable to speak coherently.