Gerald Fleming came to England to escape from Nazi Germany the late 1935, along with his brother. Born Gerhardt Flehinger in Mannheim, Germany on 11th May 1921, he would eventually change his name upon assimilation in England. He became a teacher of French, writing a number of texts books on that subject. He later became a Professor of History at The University of Surrey, focusing on the Holocaust and publishing a book of the subject, Hitler and the Final Solution in 1984. He was married to Winnie Librowicz, the sister of Rudi Leavor, and the couple had two daughters. He died in London on 24th February 2006.
The following obituary has been copied from the Guardian of Thursday 30 March 2006 and was written by Anthony de Reuck
Historian whose investigations laid bare the full horror of the Holocaust.
In the years following his retirement from Surrey University in 1982, as a reader in his native language of German, Gerald Fleming, who has died aged 84, dedicated his energies to exposing the hidden history of the Holocaust. His book Hitler and the Final Solution, first published in 1984 and since widely translated, is the fruit of his forensic search for irrefutable evidence; he was determined to clarify the historical record of the Nazi programme so it could resist any attempt to dilute the immense criminality of Hitler’s policies.
Some of Fleming’s research for the book had been conducted in the Latvian capital, Riga, in 1982, while the Baltic state was still a Soviet republic; its prewar Jewish population of 90,000 suffered particularly heavily during the German occupation of 1941-44. In February 1990, he read an article in the Russian newspaper Izvestia about a Moscow archive of several hundred storage units in which there was set out in “accessible and businesslike fashion, in the language of drawings, accounts and financial estimates, the typical technology of construction of a death factory with special subdepartments for Gypsies, Jews and Soviet PoWs”.
These documents were the records of the SS central building administration, which had been seized at the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in January 1945. They recounted how engineering improvements to the crematorium had raised the “throughput” to 4,756 people per day, but that “because of continuous and above norm usage the chimney has begun to crack from overheating and there is a danger of it collapsing”, as a memo from the organisation’s chief put it.
The archive was apparently housed in a five-storey building, but had been completely unresearched. Fleming sent the writer of the article a telegram, and a telephone call came back from Moscow advising him to contact Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze and other officials. That October, Fleming flew to Russia for the first of many visits; eventually, the authorities, persuaded by his integrity and independence, also gave him unique access to the quite separate KGB archives, hidden deep in the forest outside Moscow.
The Auschwitz documents that Fleming uncovered detailed plans for expanding the camp through exchanges between Berlin headquarters and the local SS command, blueprints for gas chambers and ovens submitted by German companies, and invoices for everything from cement to ventilation systems to make the gas chambers more efficient. They also included transcripts of Red Army interrogations of captured crematorium engineers, which Fleming drew on for an expanded edition of his book in 1994. That year, too, his work was featured in a BBC Horizon programme, Blueprints for Genocide.
Hitler’s authorities devoted major resources and immense cunning to attempting to conceal or destroy evidence for the chain of command and responsibility for the final solution, systematically falsifying documentation to lay false trails relating to all aspects of the Nazis’ treatment of European Jewry. Present-day Holocaust denial often rests on a wilful connivance with this corruption of the evidence of guilt. But Fleming’s legacy is a resource of vital significance: the principle that “the dynamics of political malevolence must never be taken lightly” was a guiding principle and motivating force throughout his career.
While opponents such as David Irving, currently jailed in Austria for Holocaust denial, pointed to the absence of any ultimate link to the top of the Nazi command, Fleming assembled such an overwhelming weight of circumstantial material as to make his case incontestable. His icily courteous exchanges with Irving were, a colleague remarked, held in a refrigerated atmosphere with the temperature set at boiling point.
Born in Mannheim, the young Gerhard Flehinger moved with his family in 1927 to Baden-Baden, where his fondest memories were of blueberry-picking expeditions in the mountains, ice-skating with his grandfather, and his grandmother Clara’s marzipan. In the summer of 1935, on the urging of British friends, he and his brother were sent to England as boarders at King’s College, Taunton, speaking no English. Within four years, thanks to a daily extra hour of English tuition, Gerald Fleming, as he had become, matriculated in nine subjects.
Many years later he came across a record written by his own father, Artur Flehinger, with photographs of the events of Kristallnacht, the government-sanctioned reprisals against Jews on the night of November 9 1938, in Baden-Baden, culminating in the destruction of the local synagogue and the removal of Jewish men to Dachau. His father was released due to pressure on the government from Rotarian friends, and he emigrated with the family to Britain.
At the start of the second world war, Fleming was interned in Canada, but he later returned to Britain to work in a munitions factory in Yorkshire. He then trained as a language teacher, graduating after a year at the Sorbonne in 1949. By now he was trilingual and perfectly acculturated in German, French and English. He became head of modern languages at William Penn school, Dulwich, south London, where teaching sensitised him to the dangers of the use of stereotypes in school textbooks.
Working with the cartoonist Kenneth Bird (Fougasse), he created a new, pictorial French grammar. He also pioneered the use of animated film for language teaching, and on trips to France with a camera and sketchpad devised situations in which La Famille Carré could be seen from different points of view. A book was produced with cartoonist David Langdon, which Halas and Batchelor put into animated form in 1965. That same year, Fleming was awarded a research fellowship at Battersea College of Technology. When it became the University of Surrey a year later, he was promoted to lecturer in the department of linguistics and regional studies.
Fleming’s appreciation of the ways in which prejudice can be engendered led him to a critique of visual propaganda and political cartoons, and at Surrey he introduced courses on humour and satire, analysing, in particular, the work of George Grosz, satirist of the Weimar republic and the Third Reich. Fleming’s analysis of this area was quite a serious business, designed to expose the finely nuanced differences between German, French and English cultural attitudes to ridicule. His style throughout was decisive and emphatic.
After he left Surrey, his reputation in the field of Holocaust studies led to his appointment in 1988 to the international commission of historians investigating the war record of Kurt Waldheim, the former UN secretary general who was then president of Austria. Waldheim had become unwelcome in many countries outside his homeland; the commission found no evidence of his involvement in war crimes, though it concluded that he may have known more than he was by that point willing to admit.
In 1993, Fleming was made a master of the University of Surrey, and awarded an honorary doctorate of letters in recognition of his scholarship. He was dedicated to searching out the sources and manifestations of prejudice and hatred in society: his work was always rigorous, and his teaching was infused by a cool objectivity. Generations of students were inspired by his humanism and integrity, as were all fellow historians of the Nazi regime. He is survived by his wife Winnie and their two daughters.
· Gerald Fleming (Gerhard Flehinger), historian and language teacher, born May 11 1921; died February 25 2006