Perhaps the best known statement on the subject of history is George Santayana's remark that:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
This is surely true to some degree. Knowing where the reefs are has always been a good way to avoid becoming another shipwreck. Likewise, in the century just ended, nuclear Armageddon was arguably avoided in part because the examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were there for all to see.
But it seems to me that very often even those who can remember the past are condemned to repeat it anyway. Perhaps the problem is not just remembering the past but with what and how we "remember." Perhaps it's a matter of how and even why we conceive of this thing called "the past" or history.
At one time it was almost universally "remembered" that Christopher Columbus was the first to discover America in the year 1492. But it may be most accurate to say that Columbus was really the last to discover America, after which "everybody" knew of the Old and New Worlds. For it is thought that people from northeast Asia first reached the Americas over a land bridge 10 thousand or more years ago. They would have had no idea that they had found a new continent. Polynesian peoples also appear to have reached the west coast of South America as they left their genetic markers among the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Leif Erikson and the Vikings were in New England centuries before Columbus, beginning in the year 1001 or thereabouts. Or was it the ancient Egyptians who first sailed west to the Americas in papyrus boats like Thor Heyerdahl in his Ra Expedition? There is also reason to suspect that West Africans were trading in the Americas during the 15th Century and perhaps earlier.
In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen considers that the history we are taught as schoolchildren, the stories that are generally accepted as fact, are often affected by motives other than an honest effort to present and explain the facts. For example:
- To come back to Christopher Columbus, it is not true that he was virtually alone in his day in supposing that the world was round, or that the men under his command during his voyage nearly mutinied for fear of falling off the edge of the world, or that he died in poverty and neglect without realizing that he had found a new land of continental dimensions. It is not even known for certain that Columbus was from Genoa. Why, then, are these ideas widespread and popular? For one thing, they serve the purpose of portraying Columbus as a bold and resourceful leader who persevered and ultimately prevailed in pursuing an extraordinary vision. For another, they humanize him and absolve him of blame in the conquests that followed his first voyage. And they divert attention from the real challenges posed to Christian theology by the existence of vast new lands filled with people who knew nothing of the Biblical plan of salvation and strange animals unknown to Eden's Adam and Eve and Mount Ararat's Noah. For the story to work, Columbus' gruesome decimation of the Arawak Indians and his distinction as the first transatlantic slave trader are ignored, minimized, or excused.
- Loewen also details how villains are made by describing the way in which the 15th and 16th Century European drive to find another route to the East has been portrayed as a result of the hostile and bloodthirsty Turks gaining control of Constantinople in 1453. The role of Islam in preserving many of the key works of ancient Greek philosophy and in advancing mathematics and science after Christians burned the great library of Alexandria and wallowed for centuries in the Dark Ages are ignored. Instead, the violence and bloodshed linked to Muslim proselytization was emphasized, even though, in some ways, European Christianity surpassed Islam in this respect.
- The historical depiction of American Indians has long been inconsistent and contradictory, according to Loewen. Even Columbus, when he wanted to build interest, extolled the natives of the lands he visited. But when engaged in subjugating and enslaving them, he described them as subhuman. George Washington repeated this pattern, praising the Indians before, as President, he oversaw a federal government that spent 80% of its budget on military conflict with native peoples. Throughout the 19th Century and much of the 20th, people really sincerely believed — and, they doubtless supposed, with good evidence — that American Indians were all bloodthirsty scalp-hunting barbarians. We know now that the reality was different.
- We also think we know that more recent history has not been corrupted by ideological and other biases. But consider the case of Woodrow Wilson, who is most frequently portrayed as one of our nation's most intellectual presidents, a former president of Princeton University. The story goes that he reluctantly involved the United States in World War I "to make the world safe for democracy," and afterwards vainly tried to set the stage for world peace by helping to set up the League of Nations that his own ungrateful country refused to join. The reality was that Wilson intervened militarily in Latin America more often than any other U.S. president. He helped to prolong the Russian civil war and arguably planted the seeds of the U.S.-Russian Cold War by secretly sending aid to the "White Russians" and dispatching U.S. troops to invade Russia in a joint command with Japanese forces. Wilson was also a notorious racist and white supremacist who actively segregated the federal government, tried unsuccessfully to have legislation passed that would further curtail the civil rights of Americans of African ancestry, and personally vetoed a clause on racial equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations. And remember: Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat!
History often seems to be the business of sorting individuals, nations and peoples, as well as their ideas, aspirations, and motives into categories of "good" and "bad." The heroes are then glorified, with all of their faults ignored, minimized, or excused, while the villains are reviled, with all of their redeeming qualities similarly overlooked. Credit is given when it is not due and withheld when it is. The result of such deceit, whether deliberate or not, serves the causes of ideologies and prejudices rather than truth and understanding. And it also makes for a rather dull and flat account of what human beings have been doing on the planet in the last few thousand years.
Our next speaker is someone who thinks that it's time to reconsider an important aspect of recent history, specifically the Holocaust, the deliberate killing of six million Jews as part of Hitler's "Final Solution" during World War II. Labeled a "Holocaust Denier," Dr. Marvin Zirber [an alias for an NTCOF member attempting to represent the point of view of Holocaust deniers] is someone who is troubled by the portrayal of Germany during the 1930's and 40's and the German National Socialists generally, and their leader Adolph Hitler specifically, as archetypal representations of consummate evil of the most diabolical sort. He asks us to question and revise what we think we know about the Holocaust, to bring our views into line with what most of us believe about ourselves and other human beings: that the vast majority of us are simply and utterly incapable of the crimes attributed to the Nazis.
Speaking: Marvin Zirber
Thank you for having me here today. It's a pleasure to talk to some Freethinkers, because I know that you are people who will not believe in things just because someone says it's true. As you undoubtedly know, I am here to talk about this thing called "The Holocaust." I am going to take a very unpopular and controversial position in this topic. I don't apologize for this. The truth is often unpopular and there are many things in the history books that are simply not true.
Let me begin by talking about this label "Holocaust Denier." We — myself and others who are in the process of revising what is believed about this chapter in the history of World War II — are not Holocaust Deniers. We do not deny that the holocaust happened. But we deny some of the outrageous things that are said about what the Nazis did during this time. We want to get at the truth by revising what is erroneous. So we are historical revisionists. We do not apologize for this either. History is a process of revision. In the light of old evidence or the revelation of previous biases history is revised. This is the job of the historian.
Now, to begin with, everyone acknowledges that in Hitler's Third Reich there was widespread and systematic anti-Semitism. There's no doubt about that. It's also a fact that Jews were removed from their homes and their property taken. And many of them died during the war. There were brutalities aimed at Jews that took place. But many myths have grown up around these facts of the so-called Jewish Holocaust that are exaggerated, simply untrue or the result of systematic propaganda.
The usual account of the holocaust says that Adolf Hitler, because of his hatred of Jews, forged a plan to have all the Jews of Europe killed. Further it is claimed that as the German army conquered Europe, all Jews were rounded up and shipped to concentration camps in order to be systematically killed in gas chambers as part of an official plan of complete extermination. The number of Jews allegedly killed in this systematic plan is usually said to be 6 million.
None of these things are true. Many Jews were killed, yes, but the figure is far less than 6 million. Nor was there any master plan to kill all the Jews of Europe. Hitler simply wanted to expel the Jews from Germany. The "Final Solution" was not extermination but deportation. The camps were established when the policies of other nations and the war itself thwarted this plan. Although some undisciplined elements in the German Army may have deliberately killed some Jews, there were never any gas chambers. Most of the deaths were due simply to the privations of war and the increasingly severe conditions in the camps. That is, they died from starvation and disease.
Now I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: "How can he say that there were no gas chambers? I learned that Jews were killed in gas chambers!"
Here is my answer: the physical and scientific evidence tells us there were no gas chambers. Today we can visit the places where these so called Death Camps once operated and we can examine the physical evidence to see if they really were factories of death as is claimed. Let us examine some of this evidence.
The gas allegedly used to kill Jewish prisoners was called Zyklon-B. There is no doubt that Zyklon-B was used by the Germans. However, Zyklon-B was a fumigant used to disinfect clothes and buildings. In the camps typhus transmitted by lice was at epidemic levels. There were fumigating chambers at these facilities but these facilities were for disinfecting clothing, blankets, mattresses, and were not suitable for use as killing chambers.
The most outstanding evidence for this claim comes from an engineering report by Fred Leuchter. Leuchter is the United States foremost engineer regarding execution devices. He has helped design and implement facilities for many U.S. states including Florida, Virginia and Alabama. What better person to examine the alleged gas chamber themselves and tell us how and if they were used for killing. I could spend an entire hour on the Leuchter Report but I don't have that long so I am going to mention the most important points.
Leuchter examined the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Majdanek, Poland. His report says that the alleged chambers could not have operated as killing chambers. Through his analysis he concluded it would have taken 68 years to kill six million people in the alleged gas chambers. According to the gas chamber legend the bodies were cremated in crematoria after the people were killed in the chambers. Leuchter's report has shown that only 1693 bodies per week could be cremated in the crematoria.
There are rooms at these camps today known to be delousing chambers during the war and even this fact is admitted by scholars who perpetuate the gas chamber myth. Leuchter examined samples of blue Zyklon-B residue left over from the delousing chamber walls and compared it to residue from the alleged killing chamber walls. What he discovered was that the amount of residue on the killing chamber walls only a small fraction of the amount found on the delousing chamber walls. This is conclusive proof that the chambers could not have been used for mass killing. There would be a much deeper staining on these walls had they been used for the purpose of killing people in the quantities claimed. Even more outstanding in one of the chambers no Zyklon-B traces were found at all!
The gas chambers could not have been used to kill people because the design implies there would have been harm to the operators. Zyklon-B is explosive. Yet nearby the alleged homicide chambers is the cremation chambers which are operating ovens. If the gas chambers has been used as is claimed there would have been explosions. Zyklon-B was allegedly poured into the chambers from the roof. This process is unsatisfactory and as Fred Leuchter showed the SS men on the roof would have been overcome by the gas themselves.
Another blow to the gas chamber theory comes from French historian Robert Faurisson. Upon visiting Auschwitz, Dr. Faurisson quizzed the museum officials regarding the authenticity of the cremation furnaces. Officials insisted that the furnace was authentic. Dr. Faurisson ran his hand on the inside on the furnace and showed his hand to the museum official. There was no soot on his hand. The embarrassed officials had to admit that the furnaces were built after the war. Further, officials had to admit that various structures representing the gas chambers were also built recently as macabre tourist attractions. Even after this, they insist there were gas chambers and Jews were killed in them.
Witness reports of bodies in the alleged gas chambers can be explained as well. Disease such as typhus and tuberculosis were rampant at times in the camps. These rooms doubled as morgues for a time and thus it would be natural to see bodies in these rooms.
The last blow I will present you with today comes from the Red Cross. From time to time we can cast doubt on various sources because they may be biased toward a predisposed answer. However, I do not think anyone can claim this of the Red Cross. In two separate reports, "Report on activity of the IRC in favor of civil detention in the concentration camps in Germany: 1939-1945" and "Inter Arma Caritas: the Work of the ICRC during the Second World War." Not one word in any of these 1600 pages mentions genocide or gas chambers. It is claimed that many of the gas chambers were disguised as shower facilities. However the Red Cross claimed that, "Not only the washing places, but installations for baths, showers laundry were inspected by the delegates. They had often to take action to have fixtures made less primitive, and to get them repaired or enlarged." If the Nazis were killing Jews, then why does the report state that, "As many as 9,000 parcels were packed daily. From the autumn of 1943 until May 1945, about 1,112,000 parcels with a total weight of 4,500 tons were sent off to the concentration camps." Further, a visit to one camp produced this report: "The Committee's delegates were able to visit the camp at Terezin which was used exclusively for Jews and governed by special conditions. These men wished to give the Jews the means of setting up a life in a town under their own administration and possessing almost autonomy."
The second claim that usually follows a claim that Jews were killed in the gas chambers is the claim that six million Jews were killed by the Nazis. As we said in the beginning we do not deny that Nazi's killed Jews. However, they did not kill a number anywhere close to six million. We say this number is an exaggeration and in some cases an outright fraud.
Jews in Europe fall in several categories: Those that emigrated to other parts of the world; Those that stayed in Eastern Europe which came under Soviet control; Those that died during the war in Nazi camps or ghettos; Those that died in Soviet camps; Those that died in Soviet military service or in German anti-partisan actions which included reprisal killings.
Take for example the number of alleged victims of Auschwitz. I noted earlier that history is a process of revision. Here is a case where the number of victims of Auschwitz has been revised and yet Holocaust "historians" continue to cling to the mystical six million number. If you recall Auschwitz is in Poland and thus it was behind the "Iron Curtain" after World War II. A Soviet Commission which studied Auschwitz noted a death toll of 4 million at Auschwitz. In fact this number remained on a plaque at the site until the fall of the Eastern Block. The Supreme National Tribunal in Poland reported the number to be 2.8 to 4 million. Auschwitz Kommandant Rudolf Höss stated that the number was about 3 million.
In 1991, the Auschwitz State Museum lowered that number to 1.1 million. In fact scholars on all sides of this issue agree that this number is closer to an accurate number than 3 to 4 million. However, even after this 1991 revision which was accepted by scholars on all sides the total death count from the alleged Jewish Holocaust stays at 6 million.
Other sources point to a logical impossibility of the number of 6 million being killed. If six million were killed then of course there would have to be six million Jews available to kill. The World Almanac of 1938 gives the number of Jews in the world as slightly over 16,000,00. The New York Times in 1948 reported the number of Jews worldwide before the war to be between 15,600,000 and 18,700,000. Now remember this isn't all the Jews in Europe. This is all Jews worldwide.
In order for 6 million to be killed then one third or more of all Jews worldwide would have been killed. Further this means that one third of all Jews would have lived in Europe. The problem for the six million myth is not over. We know that many Jews survived the war or fled Europe without being taken to ghettos or concentration camps. This then implies that more than half of all Jews in the world would have to have been living in Europe.
|Loss of German civil population as a result of air raids and forced repatriation||2,050,000|
|Loss of German nationals of other countries during the time of their eviction||1,000,000|
|Loss of victims of persecution because of politics, race or religion who died in prisons|
and concentration camps between 1939 and 1945 (not incl. USSR)
|Loss of civil population of the countries of Eastern Europe, without the Soviet Union||8,100,000|
|Loss of civil population of the Soviet Union||6,700,000|
Simply put the there is no way that there could have been six million Jews killed because there were not enough Jews to be killed and the accounts simply do not support this number.
The third pervasive claim regarding the alleged Jewish Holocaust is that the Nazis and more particularly Adolf Hitler had a plan to wipe out European Jews. As we have said before there was widespread anti-Semitism. However, mere hatred does not mean the Nazis wanted to wipe out the Jews. There is no evidence that they did. You might now ask, "What about the 'Final Solution' and the concentration camps"?
Yes. Of course the Nazis frequently said they wanted to rid Germany and/or Europe of Jews. The evidence showed that they first wanted to segregate the Jews, in much the same way Americans segregated blacks, and later they crafted a plan to deport them. Even so-called holocaust scholars let this truth slip out from time to time. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League has said, "There is no single document that expressly enumerates a 'master plan' for the annihilation of European Jewry." The Simon Wiesenthal Center, whose namesake is the famed Nazi hunter, claims that Hitler did not order the killing of the Jews. The Center which claims its purpose as, "an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust" publishes a statement which says, "Not a single document has been found with Hitler's signature ordering the extermination of the Jews."
Speaking of the European Jews, Hitler said in October of 1941, "Let nobody tell me that despite that we cannot park them in the marshy parts of Russia! ... By the way, - it's not a bad thing that public rumor attributes to us a plan to exterminate the Jews."
It simply makes no sense that Hitler would say this if he already had planned to the mass murder of European Jewry. Obviously the statement is in line with our stated theory about the concentration camps. Hitler wanted to export the Jews to another place and out of Germany.
Next month that same year, we hear from SS Chief Heinrich Himmler telephoned Reinhard Heydrich and said, "from Hitler's bunker at the Wolf's Lair [Wolfschanze], ordering that there was to be 'no liquidation' of Jews." So we have documented evidence from one of Hitler's closest staff members that there was to be no killing of the Jews.
Frequently the so called Holocaust scholar uses tricks of language translation from German to English to bolster his argument dishonestly. As we have already said Hitler's plan was deportation, isolation or forced emigration. The two most common occurrences of this tactic involve the interpretation of the German words Ausrotten, and Sonderaktion or Sonderbehandlung.
When we translate a word from one language to another sometimes the meaning does not came through entirely. The German word Ausrotten is one such word. If we look in a German-English dictionary we see that Ausrotten means "exterminate." However, the translation is not quite precise. A more correct translation is "root out" or "stamp out." One might read a statement which has been translated from the German to English in which a Nazi official used "Ausrotten" in relation to the Jews. What is meant is removing the Jew from Europe.
In a 1936 speech Hitler said, "...we are going to have to get our armed forces in a fighting state within four years so that we can go to war with the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union should ever succeed in overrunning Germany it will lead to the Ausrottung of the German people."
Does it really sound like Hitler means that the Soviets are going to exterminate 80 million Germans? This does not make sense. Hitler does not mean it in that way. Clearly, once we take into account the fact that Germans were shipped eastward into concentration camps, Hitler mentioned that there were to be shipped eastward, and that the evidence for the gas chambers is fleeting then this interpretation does not seem odd.
Another word that gets misinterpreted is Sonderaktion or "special action." Sonderaktion is used interchangably with the German word Sonderbehandlung which means "special treatment." Culturally one must understand that these words were used by German speaking bureaucrats to mean all sorts of things. They probably mean a number of things depending on the context.
Several examples exist from the 1930s and 40s. For example, one Nazi official at the Nuremberg Trials showed that in one instance it meant, "the right to drink champagne and take French lessons." A warning sign indicated, "Sonderbehandlung: Quarantanelager" or "Special Handling: Quarantine Camp." The treatment of high officials during Nazi occupation, "In those two deluxe hotels for Sonderbehandlung were lodged some of the best people such as M. Poncet, M. Herriot, etc."
We see this phrase used by Nazi officials such as Himmler and Goebbels in the treatment of the Jews. However, as we have shown the phrase could mean anything. In light of the fact that we have no evidence for gas chambers and do have evidence for mass deportation it seems that the word did mean mass deportation. Perhaps, it also referred to the general treatment of the Jews. In other words, that they were stripped of German rights, they were stripped of property, they were forced to wear a yellow star of David and so on. We may find these things atrocious but they are not mass murder.
To summarize. Hitler never ordered the killing of the Jews. This is admitted to even by so called Holocaust scholars as we have seen. Their fallback position is to take unreliable hearsay testimony of Nazis and further to misinterpret German words in order to make it appear as if there is a plan. As we have shown that is not the case.
I have also shown that the number killed simply could not have been six million. The estimates of six million have been shown to be inaccurate, inconsistent or downright fraudulent.
Further, and most convincing that there is a pattern of fraud is the gas chamber claim. I have shown that the evidence for this is faulty as well. There are photographs of gas chambers in operation and no documentation as to their use. The scientific evidence clearly shows that the gas chambers could not have been used for mass killings.
[NTCOF member who had been speaking as "Dr. Zirber" now refutes the Holocaust Denier claims]
You have just heard the testimony of a so-called Holocaust Denier. So what do you think? Did you find these arguments persuasive? Do they at least raise some doubt in your mind about what you were taught or believed about the Holocaust? If you?re not familiar with many of the historical details of this period of history, these arguments can be convincing. Even if you do know a lot about it, these arguments can be convincing. Would you know how to confront these claims in a logical, factual way? I am not Jewish and nor do I have any Jewish heritage. Why would I be interested in holocaust denial in the first place? I have an acquaintance who is an atheist and a freethinker who believes the arguments of deniers. This individual is a very intelligent person and this individual is capable of sophisticated argumentation. This individual believes the holocaust did not happen. This has driven home to me the importance of understanding history and in particular the need to face up to the facts of history even when they are ugly.
The denier persona of "Marvin Zirber" is a fictitious amalgamation of Holocaust deniers but the arguments used are not. I lifted the arguments, facts (both true and alleged) and rhetorical style straight from denier literature. This is what Holocaust deniers actually say. They say there was no plan to exterminate Jews. They say that there were no gas chambers. They say that six million did not die.
The public consciousness and its view of history is ripe for the likes of Marvin Zirber. Unlike physical sciences which can be demonstrated in a laboratory, history is only left with whatever evidence that has survived. This may consist not just of documents of the time but of inaccurate eyewitness accounts which may be accidentally or deliberately distorted. This is why historians know that a single piece of evidence might say very little about a historical event. Deniers however use this incompleteness and inaccuracy to weave whatever tale they see fit.
Because history describes complex human events, single pieces of evidence do not give us confidence in our understanding of past events. History depends on multiple pieces of evidence of different kinds, the strengths and weaknesses of each of which must be considered. For example, we believe the American Revolution happened because we have letters written at the time, gravestones which mention dying for liberty, artifacts such as flags and pamphlets and so on. A single piece of such evidence, considered alone, does not "prove" to us much about the character of the American Revolution or whether it happened. However, the cumulative weight of these pieces can tell us much about the Revolution. The same is true for the Holocaust. The Holocaust is not a single event and a single piece of evidence does not "prove" it happened.
Zirber and Holocaust deniers generally use three standard arguments regarding the Holocaust. They are, "No gas chambers," "No six million killed," and "No overall plan or no Hitlerian order." Further, they confuse the situation and try to gain sympathy by dragging other ideas into the arguments. These include anti-Semitism in the form claiming that the Holocaust is a "Jewish Conspiracy" and a martyr complex which asserts that their views are being suppressed. Now we might have given the impression that the existence of the holocaust is a debated historical question. Scholars do not doubt the past existence of the Holocaust any more than they doubt the past existence of the Roman Empire. Zirber's arguments are false and I will explain why. But I want you to notice, too, how each of the arguments, when considered outside of the overall context of evidence that proves the Holocaust, can appear to be very convincing.
Nazi anti-Semitism as an official institution of the German government grew from a policy of discrimination, to one of segregation to one of extermination. In January 1933 Hitler was elected and almost immediately a policy of anti-Semitism was put into effect. Through several years this policy moved from organizing boycotts of businesses (April 1933) to the public burning of Jewish books (May 1933) to stripping Jews of the right to serve in the Army (May 1935) to stripping Jews of German citizen status (September 1935) to the registration of all Jews and Jewish property in the Reich (April 1938) to forced emigration (August 1938) to forcing all Jews to transfer businesses to Aryans (November 1938) to Hitler's 1939 Reichstag speech where he declares that if a war erupts that it will mean Vernichtung (extermination) of the Jews (January 1939) to the invasion of Poland (September 1939). During this time the concentration camps of Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald were established.
There were killings of Jews during this time but they were crude mass shootings. This shows an escalation of policy against the Jews. The Deniers use this to spin arguments. Deniers will say Holocaust historians are claiming that Hitler and the Nazis were systematically rounding up and killing Jews from the beginning. T his timeline demonstrates that this is not so and it shows in part that the situation is a bit more complex. Notice that we haven't even spoken of gas chambers yet but let?s do that now.
The evidence shows that the use of the gas chambers developed from the application of Hitler's racial theories on the mentally ill, the handicapped, and others deemed "unfit." This first started with sterilization of such people and proceed to a practice of euthanasia involving these "unfit" people. There is tremendous evidence for this position both in form of original documentation and eyewitnesses who participated. During this period of "free[ing] the people from the burden of the mentally ill" (Dr. Gerhard Wagner) the mass murder gas chamber technology and procedure were created.
[Early 1930s] Sterilization Laws
[August 1939] Written reprieve
[late 1939 - 1941] Euthanasia programs.
 Euthanasia suspended due to criticism.
[1941 - 1945] Same techniques used on Jews at the Concentration Camps.
18 August 1939 Physicians and midwives ordered to report deformities at birth. They were transferred to special child groups and killed via injection. (Memo of the Interior Ministry)
Later during 1939 Hitler meets with Doctors and Ministers of Health on several occasions. He orders "mercy deaths. We know this from written documentation and the testimony of these physicians.
Berlin. 1 September, 1939
From Adolf Hitler:
Reichsleiter Bouhler and the physician Dr. Brandt are charged with the responsibility of extending the authority of certain physicians, to be designated by name. These latter will be able to grant a mercy death to patients considered incurable according to the best human judgment.
The participants were "hand picked" and they were sworn to secrecy. Remember we are speaking of newborn or young children at this point. However, the plan then moved onto adults. The Nazis built 6 euthanasia or killing facilities. This is where the gas chambers were developed. Experiments were conducted with gas and the processes that were most efficient replicated. One observer testified,
"Did I ever watch a gassing? Dear God, unfortunately yes. ... In the chamber there were patients, naked people, some semi-collapsed, others with their mouths terribly wide open, their chests heaving. I saw that, I have never seen anything more gruesome. I turned away, went up the steps, upstairs to the toilet. I vomited everything I had eaten. This pursued me days on end."
Remember this description. We will come back to it. The euthanasia program killed approximately 70,000 adults and 5,000 children. The program was suspended when Bishop Clemens Galen filed murder charges at a prosecutor's office. When the charges went unheard he delivered a sermon on August 3, 1941. The Nazis then closed these facilities and essentially moved them eastward into places like Poland. This technology was reproduced at the camps.
To be fair there were a great amount of things that were first said about the concentration camps that were not true. However, that is part of the purpose of history. The situation in Europe was one of war and chaos. Of course rumors and tales will be told. However, this does not mean that all tales are false especially if they are supported by physical and documentary evidence. Deniers do not accept this. For example, some deniers will listen to the testimony of a holocaust survivor and if they exaggerate or tell us about something through hearsay then the denier throws out ALL of the testimony of the survivor. I think its plainly obvious what is wrong with this tactic. (Example: You were wrong about the color of the car that was in accident and therefore there was no accident???) Deniers are correct in noting that there were no mass electrocutions, that people were not burned alive in the crematorium as first rumored, that there were no gas chambers used at Dachau as first believed, and that people were not killed by boiling. The soap story is only a partial truth. There were experiments where soap was made from human fat but it was not done on a mass scale at concentration camps as was claimed through rumor. All of this, however, is merely a rhetorical tactic to get one to doubt claims for which we have overwhelming documentation and testimony.
Now let us go straight to the claims of the gas chambers themselves. It was claimed in the Leuchter report that the chambers found there were delousing chambers and were not used for humans or they were used as morgues. However, we have the testimony of people who claim otherwise. Deniers dismiss this testimony by pointing out conflicts. Rather than try to resolve this but finding which parts in testimony are more or less reliable they throw all the testimony out.
Let's shoot down gas chamber claims point by point.
Only 1693 people per week could be cremated resulting in 68 years to kill 6 million.
Nobody claims 6 million were killed at Auschwitz or in all of the gas chambers. A letter, now in the German archives, by SS General Kammler in Berlin of June 20, 1943 states that 4756 bodies can be consumed per day at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone. Leuchter assumes that one body is burned at a time. However, this was not a funeral home. They did not care if the ashes were mixed. Secondly, the hot ashes from a previous cremation session were used to keep the ovens hot and thus heating, cremation times and fuel consumption were massively reduced. Bodies were also burned in open pits.
Zyklon-B residue on chamber walls (as compared to admitted delousing chambers) indicates they were not used for gassing people.
This claim is silly. The chemical in Zyklon-B that actually does the killing in hydrogen cyanide or HCN. It makes a much greater concentration of HCN to kill insects that humans. Humans can be killed in times measured in minutes with 330 parts per million but insects can take up to 72 hours to kill with 16,000 parts per million. Thus, one would expect to find less staining on the walls and in fact one does. Even noting that the Nazis used three to four times the amount needed to kill humans the ratio of the minimum to kill insects to the maximum used to kill humans is 12 to 1.
In one chamber no staining was found at all!
One gas chamber is Auschwitz was converted to an air raid shelter and still some gas chambers were rebuilt as memorials because the Nazis destroyed them as the Soviets advanced across eastern Europe. This speaks to Mr. Faurisson's claim that the curator "had to admit" that the gas chambers and cremation ovens were built after the war. Deniers act as if they have caught holocaust historians in a lie. If you visit the Auschwitz Museum and ask if these are the original gas chambers, they will tell you they are not. Nobody is hiding this fact.
Leuchter clandestinely chipped off pieces of masonry without paying attention to whether he was taking original material or pieces from areas that had been reconstructed; the Nazis had dynamited most of these chambers as the Allies advanced.
Gas chamber would have caused explosions because cremation ovens were nearby.
The level of HCN required to kill humans is 200 times lower than the concentration that will ignite. "The Merck Index" which is a widely used multi-volume tome of chemical properties states that the order of 300 parts per million can kill humans but the minimal concentration for an explosion is 56,000 parts per million.
The gas chamber operators would have been killed also.
The operators were wearing gas masks. The same thing can be said for the people operating the known delousing chambers that Deniers readily admit to. What about the ventilation of the gas from the chamber? HCN when ventilated into air drops its concentration quickly. Remember our witness to euthanasia project? He and other witnesses also describe the ventilation of the gas onto the outside air. Why were there no deaths from these known operations? Further, there was also testimony from those involved that medical personnel were nearby just in case there was an accident and a guard was overcome.
The Red Cross found no evidence of genocide during the war.
SS-Untersturmfuehrer Dr. Hans Münch at his Nuremberg Trial said:
"I repeatedly witnessed guided tours of civilians and also of commissions of the Red Cross and other parties within the camp, and I was able to ascertain that the camp leadership arranged it masterfully to conduct these guided tours in such a way that the people being guided around did not see anything about inhuman treatment. The main camp was shown only and in this main camp there were so-called show blocks, particularly block 13, that were especially prepared for such guided tours and that were equipped like a normal soldier's barracks with beds that had sheets on them, and well-functioning washrooms."
Reuters from August 30, 1996:
"The International Committee of the Red Cross, which prides itself on being nonpolitical, is accused in previously secret World War II documents of being used and 'probably controlled' at its highest levels by German intelligence."
The OSS, forerunner to the CIA, released records that indicated that they believed that Nazis has infiltrated the Red Cross, that Red Cross diplomatic pouches were used to ferry German assets to Switzerland, and that they used the Red Cross to smuggle German agents across European borders.
Associated Press, October 1997:
"Very clearly, the ICRC's activities with regard to the Holocaust are sensed as a moral failure" said George Willemin, archives director. At that time, The Red Cross released 60,000 pages of microfilm some of which indicated that field workers were aware of mass deportations and killings.
Camp at Terezin:
This camp was actually a show camp created by the Germans to divert public opinion and to house important Jewish people who otherwise might be missed.
Besides all of this we have witnesses and documentation. After the people were killed in the chambers Jews recruited from the camp (called Sonderkommando) were brought out to do the work of burning the bodies. A very few survived to tell this tale. Usually these Jews were killed so that there would not be eyewitnesses. However, confusion at the end of the war allowed some to escape death. Other eyewitnesses include Nazis involved in the gassings and in at least one case a civilian railway worker who pretended to shovel coal so that he could see people being shoved into the rooms. I can cite account after account and quote them but they are essentially the same.
We have documentation. Here is an aerial photograph of Auschwitz. Notice the dark area here that is actually a group of people being marched to the chambers. American bombers captured these reconnaissance photos. There are plenty of these photographs which are time sequenced showing people being marched toward registration areas or crematoria building which housed the gas chambers. It was mentioned that the gas chamber rooms might have been morgues. Why would you march a column of living people toward a morgue?
Even further we have documentation of prisoner transports and reports of liquidation which match the photographic dates. Cross-referencing this information does not produce conflicts of evidence. As we said earlier, it's not a single piece of evidence which makes us believe a historical event, but rather a combination of evidence. The aerial photographs and combined documentation are a good example of this.
The second claim made by Deniers is the claim that six million were not killed. Deniers might be right. Maybe 5.7 million were killed or maybe 6.1 million. When we say "6 million" we refer to an original Nazi estimate of the number killed and scholarly estimates that range from about 5.1 million to 6.3 million. This number is constantly being revised and is a point of debate amongst true Holocaust scholars. However, they all agree that the numbers, even if reduced, might be reduced by a few hundred thousand and not the millions that Deniers arguments require. Certainly the number will never be reduced to a few hundred thousand or "only" one million as Deniers claim.
How do we get this six million number? There are three methods called Addition, Subtraction, and Recapitulation. With addition we add up numbers from records kept by the Nazis and other reliable sources. So we add up deaths by starvation, shooting by the Einsatzgruppen and concentration camp deaths and we get a number. The subtraction method used prewar numbers from reliable sources, and we subtract from that the number of emigrations to other countries number remaining after liberation, and the populations that remained in parts of Europe. The recapitulation method combines both of these to cross reference numbers for accuracy.
|Gutman & Rozett||5,859,622||(1990)|
What about Auschwitz? It went from 4 million down to 1.1 million but the 6 million number remains. The answer is simple: few scholars believed the 4 million number. Scholars thought the number was between slightly less than one million to about 2.5 million.
|Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews.
|Bauer, Yehuda. A History of the Holocaust.
||1.5 to 3.5 million|
||1 to 2.5 million|
|Piper, Franciszek. "The Number of Victims" in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp.
|Reitlinger, Gerald. The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe
||.8 to .9 million|
|Kogon, Eugen. Der SS Staat
||3.5 to 4.5 million|
|Studies from Poland, former East Germany, and former Czechoslovakia
Madajczyk, Czeslaw. Polityka III Rzeszy w okupowanej Polsce; okupacja Polski, 1939-1945.
|2.8 to 4 million|
|Dunin-Wasowicz, Krzysztof. Resistance in the Nazi concentration camps, 1933-1945
||2.5 to 4 million|
|Czech, D. "Konzentrationslager Auschwitz: Abriss der Geschichte,"
||2.5 to 4 million|
The Eastern Block sources show the higher inflated numbers and the Western sources show lower numbers.
The last claim of the Deniers is that there was no order from Hitler and there was no plan to murder the Jews. At the outset this argument might be persuasive. The Nazis were meticulous in record keeping. In there were written orders for all sorts of things then why not a written order for this most important of tasks? (Audience: By the way what do you think of this argument? If it?s really true might it be a bit persuasive if there is no written order from Hitler? Yes? No?)
Consider this summary that describes 7 to 8 years of time. Hitler comes to power. Systematized discrimination starts almost immediately. Laws are enacted stripping Jews of rights. Sterilization laws are enacted against the so-called "unfit." Jews are stripped of property and forced emigration begins. Euthanasia programs for the so-called "unfit" are started. The technology of killing is mass-produced and moved to concentration camps. Mass killing of Jews begins. The claim that the Nazis started immediately with a plan to kill Jews is not correct. This is a plan that developed over many years. This speaks to the claim that there is no order or plan. For a great of amount of time there was no specific plan to kill the Jews. The Third Reich's extermination policy was developed. It was not stated at the outset.
This does not mean there was not an intention. In fact, Hitler and Himmler both discussed the extermination of the Jews previous to the development of gas chambers. Given that we know there were gas chambers and that they were systematically killing the Jews and others, the "best case" (and I use "best case" loosely) is that the Nazis went to systematic mass murder starting in the late 1930s. This line of argument acts merely to obscure history. When we are answering the question, "Did the Holocaust really happen," it does not matter if Hitler wanted to kill the Jews before he took power, whether Hitler and Himmler hatched a scheme together early in his regime, or some similar idea.
Well as it turns out there is no known written order by Hitler to murder Jews. However, written orders by Hitler for other things are absent as well. There is no written order to invade Poland for example. Do we now believe that Poland was not invaded? Recall the early euthanasia program. The doctors testified they wanted the program enacted as law to protect themselves. Hitler refused and gave a written reprieve. Although this is not an order it shows Hitler's reluctance to write evidence into the record and his understanding that there is a difference between written policy and spoken policy.
Hitler received public criticism regarding the euthanasia program and he stopped it on German soil at least. Further, as we discussed earlier he swore the participants to secrecy. The Germans also used code words during their discussions. Mr. Zirber claims that these words indicate that the Nazis had no intention toward organized murder but the testimony of Nazis and an examination of documented usage of these phrases (which I will explain momentarily) shows otherwise. It makes sense that Hitler would hide these actions and not speak of them publicly. In fact the evidence indicates this is exactly what happened.
We have plenty of evidence there was a plan and we have plenty of evidence that Hitler ordered it. Much of this comes from the testimony of Nazis. The deniers refute this testimony by saying that the captured and interrogated Nazis were tortured and beaten. They claim the confessions were under duress and that these confessions were extracted to obtain evidence for war crimes trials because no physical evidence existed. Mr. Zirber did not make this claim but I will go ahead and mention it anyway. There were 188 total defendants at the Nuremberg trials. This produced 26 death sentences, 23 life sentences, 101 sentences of 25 years or less, and 38 acquittals. These defendants had access to 206 attorneys of which 136 were former Nazi party members. Several prisoners were actually released before their prison terms expired and many wrote memoirs after they were released. One would expect that if these were forced confessions that at least one person would claim complete innocence and try to expose the alleged "myth" of the gas chambers and the genocidal plan. However, I can find no record of any such person making such a claim. However, the trials and other confessions or memoirs of Nazis tell a different story. Further, we have journal entries written before capture or interrogation that confirms that Hitler ordered the killing of the Jews.
Let's look at a few quotes. Some during interrogation and testimony and some before the Germans lost the war:
"At the beginning of May 1942 SS-Oberfuehrer Brack from the Fuehrer's chancellery suddenly came to Lublin. With Globocnik he discussed resuming the extermination of the Jews. Globocnik said he had too few people to carry out this programme. Brack stated that the euthanasia programme had stopped and that the people from T4 would from now on be detailed to him on a regular basis so that the decisions taken at the Wannsee conference could be implemented. As it appeared that it would not be possible for the Einsatzgruppen to clear individual areas of Jews and the people in the large ghettos of Warsaw and Lemberg by shooting them, the decision had been taken to set up two further extermination camps which would be ready by 1 August 1942, namely Treblinka and Sobibor. The large-scale extermination programme [Vernichtungsaktion] was due to start on 1 August 1942."
Adolf Eichmann describing the mobile gassing vans:
Q. How many people did the van hold?
A: I can't say exactly. I couldn't bring myself to look closely, even once. I didn't look inside the entire time. I couldn't, no, I couldn't take any more. The screaming and, and, I was too upset and so on..... The van drove up to a long trench, the door was opened and bodies thrown out. They still seemed alive, their limbs were so supple. They were thrown in, I can still remember a civilian pulling out teeth with some pliers and then I just got the hell out of there.
Hans Frank who has of the German administration over several Polish districts
October 7, 1940
"My dear Comrades!... I could not exterminate [ausrotten] all lice and Jews in only one year."
Does Frank mean to transport the lice in one year?
Heinrich Himmler clearly tells us what ausrotten means and tells us that the Nazis want it directed at the Jews.
"I have the conviction that the Roman emperors, who exterminated [ausrotten] the first Christians, did precisely what we are doing with the communists. These Christians were at that time the vilest scum, which the city accommodated, the vilest Jewish people, the vilest Bolsheviks there were."
In June 1941 Himmler addessed Rudolf Hoss who was the comander at Auschwitz. Remember the date. This is near the end of the Euthanasia experiments.
"You have to maintain the strictest of secrecy about this order, even to your superiors. The Jews are the eternal enemies of the German people and must be exterminated. All Jews we can reach now, during the war, are to be exterminated without exception."
Joseph Goebbels from his own diary:
March 27, 1942
"Beginning with Lublin (Poland) the Jews are now being deported eastward from the Government-Gerneral. The procedure is pretty barbaric, and one that beggars description, and there's not much left of the Jews. Broadly speaking one can probably say that sixty percent of them will have to be liquidated, while only forty percent can be put to work."
Just a note: On March 7, 1942 Goebbels notes that there are still 11 million Jews in Europe. Sixty percent of eleven million is 6.6 million. Goebbels admits right here that they are willing to kill millions and probably will.
January 30, 1939 in a speech before the Reichstag:
"Today I want to be a prophet once more: if international finance Jewry inside and outside of Europe should succeed once more in plunging nations into another world war, the consequence will not be the Bolshevation of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation [Vernichtung] of the Jewish race in Europe."
Vernichtung means "destruction."
SS-Untersturmführer Dr. Hans Münch in 1981 Swedish TV interview:
Interviewer: I must ask something. Doubters claim that "special treatment" could mean anything. It didn't have to be extermination.
Münch: "Special treatment" in the terminology of the concentration camp means physical extermination. If it was a question of more than a few people, where nothing else than gassing them was worthwhile, they were gassed.
Interviewer: "Special treatment" was gassing?
Münch: Yes, absolutely.
Adolf Eichmann during his interrogation by the Israelis:
Q: What does 'special treatment' mean, and who was subjected to it?
Eichmann: Special treatment was killing. Who thought up the term - I don't know. Must have been Himmler, who else could it have been - but then, I have no proof, maybe Heydrich thought it up after Göring gave him his authorization. But I really don't know. I'm just trying to puzzle it out.
Q: But you knew special treatment meant killing?
Eichmann: Everybody knew that, yes, Herr Hauptmann, everybody knew. When a shipment was marked "for special treatment," they decided at the point of arrival who was fit for labor and who wasn't.
So it's obvious there was a plan. There was intent. They talked about it in speeches. They wrote it in their diaries. They talked about after they were caught. They talked about it to journalists long afterward. "Ausrotten" meant extermination and "special treatment" was coded language for extermination.
I have addressed all of the Denier's points and showed that they are either outright deceptions or the result of faulty reasoning. As I noted many of the deniers' sources are factual. They use facts and ignorance to their advantage. In that way they are similar to Creationists. Why would Creationists and Deniers have similar rhetorical strategies? Simple. The subject matter of both is the attempted reconstruction of the past. Both use tactics that obfuscate history and prey on ignorance in order to forward their ideological viewpoints. Now I'm going to show you a blow-by-blow comparison of Creationist rhetoric versus Holocaust Denier Rhetoric.
|Driven by ideology:|
|Evangelical Christianity. "Institute for Creation Research. A Christ-Focused Creation Ministry. For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day... Exodus 20:11"
||Anti-Semitism. Institute for Historical Review. "Ah, How Sweet it is to be Jewish.", " Jewish Militants: Fifteen Years, and More, of Terrorism in France", "The Irving Trial, 'Human Rights' Double Standard, and Jewish-Zionist Arrogance", " "Jews in the Bolshevik Takeover of Russia"|
|Quoting prominent people:||Francis Crick: "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going."
||Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal: "There weren't any death camps on German soil."
|Quoting opponent/scientist/historian out of context:||Many tests using Carbon-14 give dates that are obviously wrong or conflict with dates given by other radioisotope tests. For instance, a living mollusk was once shown by Carbon-14 dating to be dead for 3,000 years.
||Anti-Defamation League: "There is no single document that expressly enumerates a 'master plan' for the annihilation of European Jewry."
|Talk more about their ideas than yours:||Evolution cannot be true. Therefore, creation must be true.
||Spend most of their effort refuting the claims of the Jewish Holocaust rather than explaining what happened.
|Exploit small disagreements to throw out all of your opponents position:||Disagreement about whether dinosaurs were reptiles or evolved from or after birds means evolutionists are a sham.
||Disagreements about exact numbers, numbers killed in gas chambers vs shot by Einsatzgruppen or starved, etc are taken as proof that mainline historians are covering up the "fact" that the Holocaust never really happened.
|Put your arguments on the same level as theirs:||Creation Science is science or science is based on faith.
||Historians revise history. We are merely revising it also.
|Denigrate other side by showing their past mistakes:||Lamarckian Evolution
||Soap never done on a mass scale at concentration camps.
|Play the word game:||God created everything in six days (Genesis 1:1-31). "Day" does not mean 24 hours. It could mean millions of years.
||Ausrotten does not mean exterminate. Sonderbehandlung did not mean killing but meant forced emigration.
|Denigrate historical studies:||Since no one was around when life began on the earth, scientists can't say they can know what really happened, evolution is just a guess.
||Since WWII happened 50+ years ago, we can't know what really happened or how many Jews were really killed; the Holocaust is therefore just a guess.
|Demand a single piece of evidence:||"Show me one transitional fossil."
||Robert Faurisson talking to Michael Shermer, "one proof, just one proof".
David Irving: $1000 prize for the "written order."
|Incomplete tapestry of evidence means we should reject the entire theory:||The scientists cannot name all the transitions starting from organic molecules and proceeding to humans. Therefore, evolution is bogus.
||There is no detailed step by step plan to wipe out European Jewry. Therefore, there was no intention to wipe out European Jewry.
|Claims must not violate a priori ideological doctrines:||Everything must conform to the Holy Bible.
||Everything must conform to the idea that the Nazis weren't really the inhumane, cold-blooded killers that they're made out to be.
|Suggest the opponent is perpetrating a hoax:||Piltdown Man and other hoaxes show that many more, if not most of the pieces of evidence relied upon by evolutionists must be wrong.
||Instances where the Nazis were blamed for massacres that were done by the Soviets or Polish villagers against their neighbors are taken as proof that brutalities attributed to the Nazis were false.
|Create your own hoax:||Human footprints next to dinosaur footprints at Glen Rose, Texas.
||The Jews control Hollywood and all media.
|Denigrate the enemy!:||People who believe in evolution are atheists, communists, or otherwise people of ill repute.
||The Holocaust supporting Jewish Defense League was once classified as a terrorist organization by the FBI.
|The enemy is suppressing us!:||The secular humanist controlled schools won't allow creationism to be taught in science class.
||The Jewish controlled media will not allow our opinion to be heard.
When we compare Holocaust Revisionists to Creationists then their scheme becomes clearer. They aren't thinking. They are convincing. That is they are merely trying to convince rather than engage in an honest quest for truth. They have a preconceived ideology and they interpret or even change the facts to fit their already decided conclusions. This is not thinking.
The lesson for us is that we should be wary. Holocaust Deniers or any sort of historical revisionists can obviously take advantage of skeptical minds. Freethinkers sometimes think they cannot be fooled. I would suggest that we can be fooled. I would suggest that sometimes Freethought doubt needs to turn into making solid Freethought distinctions.
I wish I had some other great philosophical conclusion from all this. I don't. Perhaps its best to note that ordinary people perpetrated these crimes and ordinary people could be convinced that they did not happen.
[Dr/ Gorski resumes his remarks]
As [name of the NTCOF member who would prefer not to be identified] has shown so well, so-called Holocaust Revisionism is not only a denial and a falsification of history but a denial and a falsification of what it means to know anything. Like creationism and every other form of pseudoscience, it only pretends to be grounded in facts and reason. In reality, it is utterly at odds with facts and reason. Yet what should also be clear is that anyone who is not thoroughly familiar with the details of this period of history could easily be swayed by the arguments of people like "Marvin Zirber." As Michael Shermer points out in his book Why People Believe Weird Things and also in his book entirely devoted to this subject, Denying History, the puzzle of it is that many deniers are quite familiar with the facts but ignore, evade, and willfully misrepresent them anyway.
In the case of Creationism we know the real reasons why facts and reason are scorned: because Creationists cannot reconcile their theistic world view with the reality of evolution by natural selection. What's going on in the case of Holocaust deniers? Shermer gives very brief mention of the denier's own claims that they feel the German people have been unfairly stigmatized. He goes on to show that the major figures and organizations involved in Holocaust denial are certainly motivated by ferocious anti-Semitism. But is this the basis of its wider appeal? Is it anti-Semitism that caused us to hope that perhaps there was something to Marvin Zirber's arguments? Was it anti-Semitism behind a twinge of disappointment that those arguments were so thoroughly demolished by Andy Laska?
I don't think so. I think the appeal of Holocaust denial for the ordinary person goes deeper than that. Much deeper. I think it goes to our own sense of ourselves as decent people which depends vitally, in a way, to our desire to think of others as decent people as well. We are more vulnerable than we think.
Just think about the movie Schindler's List. The movie was about the Holocaust, yes. But in a way it was also about Holocaust denial, because the point of the movie wasn't six million people starved, shot, beaten, worked to death, gassed, or otherwise blotted out of existence. No; the point of the movie was 1100 Jews who survived to walk out of the black-and-white nightmare of the National Socialist "Final Solution" to the technicolor land of modern-day Israel. 1100 out of six million: that's less than two hundredths of a percent of the total six million killed.
Think about The Diary of Anne Frank. In the stage and screen versions, the story ends not with Anne's murder, but with her hopeful declaration that, "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."
I have to say, too, and not without some embarrassment, that when I first read Man's Search For Meaning, I took Viktor Frankl's word for it that those who survived the Nazi death camps were distinguished by their ability to hold on to some small shred of their humanity and a sense that their lives mattered. This is a ridiculous idea, really. But it has emotional appeal because it's what we really want to believe: that courage and determination, that an absolute refusal to give up can always save us.
Then there is Auschwitz. Chelmno, Belzec, and Sobibor are forgotten, because these concentration camps were razed to the ground by the Nazis as the Allied forces advanced. But Auschwitz stands as a symbol of the Holocaust because people can still go there and imagine what it must have been like for the million people who died there. About 700,000 people visit Auschwitz every year just for that reason. The place has become a kind of religious shrine. Indeed, Jews and Catholics have already clashed over their differing claims of its significance. Some Holocaust survivors, among them those who lost their whole families at Auschwitz, have sought to be buried there.
Consider the fact that Adolf Eichmann escaped after the war to Argentina. When agents of the Israeli Mossad went to check out the address they had been given, they rejected the idea that the former Nazi could be living in such humble circumstances in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. One of those who kidnapped him and brought him back to Israel in 1961 recounted later that:
I can still recall exactly how I was touched, even a bit disgusted, when I saw his shabby clothing, particularly his underwear. I could not help it and asked myself spontaneously: is this the great Eichmann, the man who decided the fate of millions of my people? [Images of the Holocaust: the Myth of the Shoah Business, by Tim Cole, Duckworth & Co., Ltd, London 1999, page 47-48]
Simon Wiesenthal himself, whose role in the apprehension of Eichmann is probably exaggerated, had this to say on encountering the former Nazi:
For nearly sixteen years I had thought of him practically every day and every night. In my mind I had built up the image of a demonic superman. Instead I saw a frail, nondescript, shabby fellow — There was nothing demonic about him; he looked like a bookkeeper who is afraid to ask for a raise — Dressed in a cheap, dark suit, he seemed a cardboard figure, empty and two-dimensional.
Wiesenthal went so far as to suggest that Eichmann be made to wear an SS uniform for his courtroom appearances! Eichmann, of course, was duly convicted of war crimes and executed. But the drama of the event opened the eyes of a generation to an historic event that up until that time had not been talked about very much. It was during those legal proceedings that Hannah Arendt, correspondent for the New Yorker, marveled at "the banality of evil."
These are the real Holocaust myths. For on the one hand the Holocaust is settled fact which is demonstrated by a wealth of objective evidence and rational analysis. But on the other hand the Holocaust also steals into our subjective, personal, and private realities. It crosses over the line between science — as much as history can be science — into religion. It challenges us with an array of troubling and interlaced questions, all of which ultimately concern the meaning of our lives and of what it means to be a human being struggling to distinguish good from evil and to act on that understanding.
Perhaps the most difficult and the most frightening challenge of the Holocaust is the idea that there may be something of the murderous in ordinary people and even in ourselves. After all, we can easily suppose that Hitler was a uniquely depraved, criminally insane monster. And we can suppose that Hitler found a few others like himself in the usual infamous names of Himmler, Goering, and so on. But we cannot possibly suppose that most of those who served the Third Reich, or even most German civilians of the day happened to be psychopathic killers.
It is terror enough to think that any ordinary person could be that rare Charles Manson, Richard Speck, Ted Bundy, or Jeffrey Dahmer. At any given moment, the FBI estimates that there are several such human predators at large. But if every ordinary person is a potential mass murderer — well, it is unthinkable.
Unthinkable but perhaps true nonetheless. During 1961 and 1962, on the heels of Adolf Eichmann's apprehension, Stanley Milgram conducted experiments in psychology at Yale. His subjects were ordinary people from the New Haven, Connecticut area. Milgram told participants that he was studying the effects of punishment on learning. He then divided them into "teachers" and "learners" and asked the former to ask questions of the latter and administer electrical shocks of gradually increasing voltage whenever a wrong answer was given. 65% of Milgram's subjects were willing to give harmful electrical shocks, up to 450 volts, even though the recipients cried out in pain and begged for mercy, simply because an authority figure in a white coat reassured them that the experiment required them to do so. In reality, of course, there were no electrical shocks and the "learners" were really actors. Milgram's work was an immediate sensation as well as controversial: just imagine how the "teacher" subjects felt when they realized what had happened! It may be that there is some exaggeration at work in these accounts, but the experiments showed how easily people can be induced to obey an authority, even when it means hurting other people.
The appeal of Holocaust denial is that it allows those who are seduced by it to turn away from such ugly truths as these. Indeed, if someone is unable to adopt one of the other Holocaust myths, one of the other ways of interpreting the fact of the Holocaust from a private, personal, and subjective point of view, what else is left but to deny that ordinary people could knowingly take part in the deliberate, wholesale, systematic slaughter of millions of people in literal factories of death?
I think this is the appeal of Holocaust denial and of other instances of falsifying history, such as the claim that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, or that Columbus was an absolute hero, or that American natives were all peace-loving noble savages, and so on and so on. This is also the appeal of Creationism, and of scores, if not hundreds of other forms of self-delusion from the outrageous to the trivial. All of these fervently-held erroneous beliefs about the objective world are only the necessary requirement for the adoption of comforting views — or the evasion of disturbing views — of the subjective human condition. Yes, in the case of Holocaust denial, one of those underlying views is the bigotry of anti-Semitism, of "us versus them." But I suspect that Holocaust denial appeals even more powerfully to people who desire to believe, as Anne Frank put it, "that people are really good at heart."
So what is the truth of history? Well, first of all, the Holocaust really happened and the historical revisionists are simply wrong about that fact. They are as wrong as people who say that evolution never happened or that the NASA Apollo program was faked. These cranks have their uses, and we have made use of them today in the spirit intended by John Stuart Mill when he said:
However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth. — unless there were a succession of persons whose ever-recurring originality prevents the grounds of those beliefs and practices from becoming merely traditional, such dead matter would not resist the smallest shock from anything really alive,? [John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, 1859]
"Marvin Zirber" reminded us that Freethinkers don't believe in things simply on the grounds of tradition, authority, and established belief. But we don't reject things simply because tradition, authority, and established belief accept them either. Sometimes even the Pope gets it right, as when he allowed that "evolution is more than just a theory."
As to what the Holocaust means, you can take your pick: the hopeful perseverance of Anne Frank, the redemptive striving of Oskar Schindler and his Jews, the mute testimony of the weathered bricks of Auschwitz, or something else. But in considering any particular interpretation of the Holocaust specifically or of history generally, we must always recognize the boundary between the objective and the subjective, between science and religion, as it were, and between factual and rational analysis and moral judgements. There are simply too many ways to fall into error — serious and grievous error — unless we are at pains to do this.
These considerations apply in our everyday lives, and I will leave it to you to begin to search out this truth in your own circumstances. For there is, in banality, something profound. Except for the rare psychopaths among us, the people we know and have dealings with every day are ordinary people like ourselves. They are good and they are evil both. They have their good days and their bad days. They have their intellects and their feelings that don't always match up, just like us. And they have their humanity, just as we all do.
But our humanity depends also on a decent respect for the boundary between what is true for each of us and what is true for all of us. That is also the essence of Freethought as religion.
Please, think about it.