The Holocaust Historiography Project

Reflections on the Second World War, Free Speech and Revisionism

Doug Collins
  • Based on presentation to the IHR Tenth International Revisionist Conference, October 1990.

When I accepted the invitation to make this address I made it clear that I am not an expert on what is called "the Holocaust, " and would not be able to tell you anything about this subject that you don't already know.

But I may be able to bring the perspective of one who was a prisoner in Germany during the darkest year of the war -- the year after Dunkirk. My views were shaped by my experiences, and by this I mean not just combat experiences and its effects, but also the values that were at stake -- including freedom of speech - values that are not always respected by pressure groups that should know better.

Some people write convincingly about things of which they know nothing at first hand. They are able to do this even when they make it all up. I should know because I've been a journalist for a long time and have seen all the tricks of the trade. Copying one another's stories and going with the tide has, unfortunately, become the custom in today's journalism, which is why it's not easy to get any fair play for dissident views of current issues.

In forming an accurate perspective about an issue, there's nothing like being on the scene. And I was on the scene when Hitler was making his first moves toward mastery of Europe. Later I gained perspective of another and more restricted kind from behind the barbed wire of German prisoner of war camp, Stalag VIIIB.

My views on Hitler

In order for you to understand my perspective, I must tell you right up front what I think of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi period. To put it mildly, I do not believe that Hitler was some kind of misunderstood Boy Scout whose reasonable aims were thwarted by a sinister Winston Churchill or a duplicitous Franklin D. Roosevelt. And, simple soul that I am, I have always thought that the side that is responsible for starting a war is the side whose tanks advance thirty miles the first day, and which occupies countries that would prefer not to be occupied.

Hitler was also a dictator who had no compunction about knocking off dozens of his close comrades, let alone others. Anyone who doubts this has only to consider the events of June 30, 1934, the "Night of the Long Knives, " when Hitler ordered the deaths of stormtrooper chief Ernst Röhm and many others.

Nor do I accept the view that Hitler had a soft spot for the British and the British Empire. In 1945, while I was with an Intelligence Section of SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force], I read the original German document of the plan for Operation Sea Lion the German invasion of Britain as well as the German directives for the occupation of Britain. These stipulated that anyone over the age of twelve who insulted a member of the German occupation forces was to be subject to the death penalty, and all males between the ages of 17 and 45 who were not working in war-related industries in the United Kingdom could be sent to Germany and Poland to work as forced labor in preparation for the German attack against the USSR.

Prisoner of War

As a prisoner of war in Stalag VIIIB we knew nothing of all that, of course. But we did know that we weren't in a Club Med vacation resort, and that our prospects for the future were not favorable. In spite of that, our morale was pretty good. In our imperial ignorance and possibly arrogance, it simply never to occurred to us that we could lose the war. The unhappy thought did sometimes pop into my head, of course, that we might be prisoners for many years, and that it could be quite a while before we return to the pleasant world of fish and chips and summer holidays on the beaches. When such dreary thoughts came to mind, I would engage in daydreams of dining out in London.

When I was a prisoner in the German stalags in 1940 and 1941, the huts were stuffed with smelly, lice-ridden torsos, and rations were practically on the starvation level. One loaf of bread per day for five men, plus very watery soup. Rumor had it that conditions in some of the work camps were heavenly, and that the soup served there was so thick you could stand your spoon up in it. Whatever truth there may have been to such stories, during my year as a prisoner in Germany I never came across anyone who had personally experienced such conditions. In our camps, at any rate, nobody waxed fat. I myself developed a severe case of jaundice. There's no doubt that the death rate would have been quite high if it had not been for the Red Cross parcels we received.

I mention all this because some peopleseem to believe that conditions in the concentration camps were really not so bad. Well, I was never in a concentration camp, although during one of my escape attempts, on a proverbial dark and stormy night, I did nearly walk into a camp of the Auschwitz complex by mistake, which shows how clever I was. It must have been the neighboring camp of Birkenau, as I determined last year during a visit to Poland on the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

My point here is that there can be no doubt that the death rate in the concentration camps was high. I was with the British troops when they liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945, and what I saw there is not something I ever want to see again. Nor do I accept that the death rate there was due almost entirely to unavoidable disease. There is, I think, no point in denying the obvious, and for me the obvious is that if the prisoner of war camps weren't all that wonderful, the concentration camps would certainly have been worse.

On the more positive side, I can confirm that -- with regard to British and later American prisoners -- the Germans in most respects did honor the terms of the international agreements on the treatment of prisoners of war. They did not confiscate the food parcels, for instance, even though they often contained items that were scarce in wartime Germany, such as tea, coffee, chocolate, and so on.

But there were some awful exceptions. It is the duty of a prisoner of war to try to escape, and for my failures I spent a lot of time in solitary confinement in cells. No complaints about that - win some, lose some, as they say. But there was also the infamous case at Stalag Luft III, where 53 British and Commonwealth air force officers were murdered after being recaptured.

Life for prisoners of war was full of contrasts. During that visit to Poland last year, I met a former British enlisted man who had struck a German guard. Legally, he could have been shot. Instead, he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor, and went home when the war ended. And even though life in the stalags was grim in the year after Dunkirk, conditions improved somewhat as time went on. It became possible to take correspondence courses. Some prisoners got an education that way. There were theatrical productions. Conditions in some working camps were better than others, especially after Red Cross parcels began to arrive regularly and it became possible to trade with the locals. I have even heard of a few cases where prisoners employed on farms managed to get some female sleeping company. I never had such luck myself. Perhaps I should have stayed longer.

Conditions were incomparably tougher for the Soviet prisoners of war in German hands, a reflection of the brutality of the war in the East. It is generally estimated that two million Soviet servicemen died in German prison camps. Almost as many Germans died in Soviet hands: 1, 750, 000, according to West German figures. In his book Die Verlassene Armee (The Forsaken Army), author Heinrich Gerlach reports that of the 91,000 Germans taken prisoner at Stalingrad in early 1943, fewer than 5, 000 were still alive at the end of the war in May 1945. And many of these never returned home.

It is very likely that the death tolls of both German and Soviet prisoners of war would have been much lower if the USSR had been a signatory to the international agreement on the treatment of such prisoners. We also know that there were many German atrocities in the Soviet Union, and many Soviet atrocities in eastern Germany, not to mention the expulsion at the end of the war of some ten million German civilians from lands that had been German for centuries.

In 1947, when I was an Intelligence Officer with the British Control Commission in Germany, I was once sent to the border of the British and Soviet occupation zones to screen prisoners returning from the USSR to get whatever information they might offer on conditions there. I had also been told to have any former Waffen SS men of officer rank arrested and sent to camps in our zone. Instead, I sent them all home. Instructions or no instructions, I was not about to arrest walking skeletons, which is what they were.

As I've mentioned, Russians in Germany were also badly treated. During my visit to Poland last year, I returned to the site of Stalag VIIIB in what had been German Upper Silesia but is now part of Poland. We saw a large memorial to the 40,000 Soviet prisoners of war who died there -- or one in five of the 200,000 who were sent there. They had no shelter of any kind and simply lived in holes in the ground, even during the winter. British prisoners in the adjacent Stalag proper witnessed this tragic business. I did not witness anything of that myself, because I was long gone by the time the Soviet POWs arrived. But I've spoken to many former British prisoners who did, and they were not lying.

As I hope this little account helps to show, I am not the sort of man who can easily be persuaded that black is white. Flights of fancy I leave to others. I like what Clemenceau, the French premier known as the Old Tiger, said during the First World War. "When this war is over, " he declared, "many reasons will be given as to why it started. But no one will ever be able to say that it was because the Belgians invaded Germany." Not a bad way of putting it, in my opinion. At the same time, I want to make it clear that I hold no grudges. On the contrary, I have contempt for those who act as if the war ended last week. There are grandfathers in Germany today who were five-year-olds when the last shot was fired in 1945. Why should they be made to feel guilty? One might as well hold me responsible for the excesses of Lord Kitchener during the South African War of 90 years ago.

Free Speech in Canada

Let me now jump ahead to take a look at recent efforts in Canada to stifle free discussion on historically and racially touchy subjects -- a matter that is closely connected with the Second World War. I won't deal here with the situation in the United States, which you know more about than I do. But up in The True North Strong and Free -- which is how our national anthem describes Canada, anyway -- freedom of speech is under severe attack.

It started in the mid-1960s when a few pimply-faced youths were running around Toronto painting swastikas and various graffiti on walls. By 1971, as a direct result of Jewish group pressure, the so-called "hate laws" were passed. These make it illegal to say nasty things about any identifiable group -- unless, as it turned out, one said nasty things about the Germans or any other similarly "safe" target.

As it happened, I was in Ottawa at the time reporting on the Parliament. I witnessed some of the debate on the legislation, which was highly contentious. One member of parliament called it a legal monstrosity, which it was and still is. The bill was passed by a vote of just 89 to 45. In other words, it was passed by a minority of MP's, 127 of them having found pressing business elsewhere that day. That was when Canada was starting to become Wimpland. To paraphrase a former Canadian prime minister on the subject of wartime conscription, "Free speech if necessary, but not necessarily free speech."

The dangers inherent in the hate laws were clear. And before long, charges were laid against a bunch of loonies who had been agitating against an American Shriners' convention. These charges were dropped, but were nevertheless a sign of things to come. Today, anyone who takes on a minority group does so at his peril. For even if it's not a matter of legal action, it will be a matter of public castigation.

Many of you know about the case of James Keegstra, the Alberta teacher who has been before the courts for years because he told his students that the Holocaust was a hoax. Keegstra lost his job, became the subject of national vilification, was hauled into court, and was convicted and sentenced. On appeal, the conviction was overturned. The provincial attorney general should have then dropped the matter. Instead, responding to Jewish pressure, he sent the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is still considering it. [It was later decided to subject Keegstra to yet another trial on the same charges.]

Another Canadian teacher, Malcolm Ross, has been in a similar situation. His case is even worse than Keegstra's because he has never mentioned the Holocaust or the Jews in his New Brunswick classroom. Ross has merely written books about these subjects. But as a result, he has been hounded mercilessly, and has had to appear repeatedly before "human rights commissions" - I call them human wrongs commissions -- and before the courts. He reminds me very much of Sherman McCoy, the anti-hero of Tom Wolfe's novel Bonfire of the Vanities, who was forced to become a life-long litigant. And this in a country -- Canada - that with marvelous hypocrisy boasts of its great tradition of freedom. Sadly, there are now as many loopholes in that tradition as there are in the tax laws. In the broadcasting world, for instance, truth is no defence if the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decides that a broadcaster is using the truth for reprehensible purposes. Although Canada's new Constitution does guarantee freedom of speech, astoundingly it makes an exception, as it says, whenever a democratic society might reasonably decide otherwise. I call it the Hypocritic Oath, for greater twofacedness hath no man. The Constitution was written that way, naturally, to please the minorities and their pressure groups which now have so much influence in Canada, not the least of which is the Canadian Jewish Congress and its allied organizations. All this is reminiscent of the so-called "affirmative action" laws, those acts of hypocrisy and discrimination with which you are well acquainted here in the United States, and which we now also have in Canada.

The biggest scandal of its kind in The True North has been the Zündel case, which has been dragging on for six years.As most of you know, Ernst Zündel was charged with "spreading false news likely to do harm to a public interest" -- itself a truly Orwellian concept -- because he had reprinted a booklet entitled Did Six Million Really Die?. Initially, his persecutors and prosecutors wanted him charged under the "hate laws." But after it was determined that he would probably win such a case, the obscure "false news" statute was pressed into service.

It was as a journalist that I became interested in the Zündel affair. I had never heard of Zündel before he was charged. But I wanted to know why anyone in a democratic society could possibly be charged with "spreading false news." Doesn't everybody spread false news? Don't Santa Claus and the weatherman spread false news? Indeed, does not every politician in the country spread false news? Doesn't every newspaper spread false news? Hadn't I, in reporting what the politicians had to say, spread false news? Mindful of all this, when Zündel's attorney, Doug Christie, asked me to appear as a witness for the defense in the first Zündel (of 1985), I readily agreed.

The trial was a revelation. The judge was as biased as they come. So biased, in fact, that when the case went to appeal it was thrown out on God only knows how many grounds. As I wrote at the time, the judge himself had spread false news by misdirecting the jury. The day I appeared as a witness, and for no reason at all that I could detect, he took to shouting at Christie. I was reminded of Charles Laughton's Captain Bligh bawling out Clark Gable's Fletcher Christian, "Do you know what you are doing, Mr. Christian!"

The Media Dodge Irresponsibility

But that wasn't the worst of it. The biggest surprise was the indifference of the media. In light of the implications of the Zündel case for Canadian society, every major newspaper, magazine and television and radio station in the country should have been knocking on the door of that courthouse demanding to be heard. "False news?!, " they should have been yelling and writing. "What is this nonsense?" Instead, they kept quiet.

It has been said, you know, that the journalists of Germany were silent when Hitler came to power. Well, I can tell you that they could hardly have been more silent than the journalists of Canada were in the Zündel case. When the trial was over, a couple of "Oh dear me" editorials appeared in the Toronto press. And that was it. One can be very sure of one thing, however: If any attorney general in the country had tried to put some Marxist professor on trial for saying that Stalin's crimes were fiction which would certainly be false news the uproar in the Canadian media would have been audible in Timbuktoo. In such a case, the politicians would have scrambled to defend freedom. But Canadian politicians are as expert as any in the noble art of the double standard. Uriah Heep had nothing on them.

When the verdict in the first Zündel trial was set aside on appeal, the case should have been dropped, if only out of consideration for the taxpayer. The trials, each lasting months, cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. Also, by this time a different political party had taken power -- the misnamed Liberal Party -- and it would have been easy and right for the new attorney general to have said that all sides had their day in court, and that was an end to it. But against all logic, apart from the logic of political lickspittling, a new trial was ordered.

There then followed more education for the innocent, including me. The biggest lesson was the blatant way in which the Canadian Jewish Congress and its allied groups managed to lean on the media. There was a time, you know, when anyone going to a Canadian newspaper or broadcasting office with a request that an important trial or indeed any trial should be played down or ignored would have been shown the door in short order. But from the Toronto Globe and Mail, to the Canadian television networks, to lesser outlets, almost total silence reigned in print and on the air. The single exception was the Toronto Star, the largest circulation newspaper in the country. But even this paper played things safe. Instead of giving this remarkable trial the coverage it deserved, the Star decided to run only brief daily reports on page two, always under short and very innocuous headlines. It was the first time in the paper's history that such a thing had been done. It's laughable excuse was that this coverage made it easier for readers to find the tepid, page-two articles about the trial in the paper. Well, this silly argument could have served just as well for running the articles on same page every day among the classified ads.

The reason why Jewish groups didn't want any publicity is no mystery. Zündel knew how to work the media, and these groups did not want a repeat performance of the first trial. On that occasion, the entire country witnessed his stunts -- such as walking to the courthouse carrying a big wooden cross on his shoulder. Whether such antics did him any good with the public I don't know, but they certainly got him into the news. Even worse, from the Jewish point of view, was that the media had reported on the points made by the defense. Headlines such as "Nazi gas chambers unproven, court told" and "Camp gas chambers fake, Holocaust revisionist says" appeared in newspapers across the country. One can't blame Jewish groups for disliking such coverage, of course. Jews are certainly not alone in wanting things played their way. But one can find fault with the spinelessness of Canada's Fourth Estate, which is brave enough when it comes to stories of smelly tuna fish being put into cans. But there's more than one kind of fish that stinks, and in the case of the second (1988) Zündel trial, the role of the Canadian media was like thatof the piano player in the whorehouse, if I may mix my metaphors.

There was a sequel to all this that involved me. After I wrote a column about how the pressure groups had been able to draw a blanket over the trial, a Jewish professor in Vancouver complained to the British Columbia Press Council. I don't think you have press councils here in the United States, and you're not missing much. In Canada these are voluntary bodies whose members are the newspapers themselves. Each council -- which is mostly made up of laymen -- hears complaints made by the public. Councils cannot fine journalists or send them to jail, although one never knows what the future may hold. The idea is that by their judgments they should exert what is called "moral pressure."

Sometimes they get things right and sometimes they don't. On an earlier occasion, another Jewish professor brought me before the press council when I reviewed Arthur Butz's book, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. I might not have reviewed it -- indeed, I might never have even heard of it -- except that my interest had been aroused because the book had been placed on the list of forbidden imports again as a result of Jewish pressure. I found the book to be fascinating, and I recommended it as an alternate view. At the same time I bashed those who had banned it. I should mention here, incidentally, that it is quite common in Canada for books to be banned in response to complaints from pressure groups. For example, the best-selling book None Dare Call it Conspiracy had been banned for years. Such an order means that a book cannot be imported or sold in stores, nor can it legally be sent through the mails. In the case involving my review of Butz's book, the council found against me, incredibly enough, even though it is supposed to uphold freedom of the press. But my position has always been that press councils can press my pants.

To come back to the case involving my column about the blackout in the second Zündel trial, the council refused to hear the professor's complaint. Perhaps they were tired of looking at my strikingly handsome features. Or it could have been that what I had written on the matter was unassailable. Jewish delegations had in fact visited all the mainstream media, and those media had complied with their demands. To give just two examples in the television field: The Canadian Television Network (CTV) mentioned the trial only on the day it opened, while the nationally-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) mentioned it not at all. Not while it was in progress, that is. Both networks eagerly leapt into action, naturally, when Zündel was found guilty. That made it all newsworthy. One consequence of the blackout, by the way, has been that hardly anyone in Canada has heard of the Leuchter Report, a devastating document if there ever was one.

Free Speech Under Attack

When I said a moment ago that one never knows what the future may hold, I wasn't joking. You Americans are lucky to have the First Amendment, because freedom of speech is now under attack not only in Canada but in several European countries, including Britain, which claims to have given birth to it. In short, a lot of people are inclined to talk freedom of speech but not to practise it.

It was my pleasure a couple of years ago to point out that the rarely invoked Canadian law against "spreading false news" bears a striking resemblance to similar legislation enacted by Mussolini in Italy. Even the wording is similar. Here's the text, in part, of Mussolini's 1924 law:

If any newspaper or periodical, by false or misleading news causes any interference in the diplomatic action of the government … or hurts the credit of the nation at home or abroad … and if the newspaper or periodical … incites to crime or to class hatred … or insults the nation, such newspapers shall be suppressed.

And here is the wording of democratic Canada's "false news" law:

Everyone who willfully publishes a statement, tale or news that he knows is false, and that causes, or is likely to cause, injury or mischief to a public interest, is guilty of an indictable offense and is liable to imprisonment for two years.

In what respect, I ask, is this Canadian"false news" goose fundamentally different from the Italian "false or misleading news" gander?

I must make one other point about the Zündel case that should tell you a lot about the situation in our country. In the first trial Zündel was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, and to nine months in the second. This is nothing less than savage, considering that rapists and bank robbers often get away with less. (The Zündel case is still before the Supreme Court of Canada, by the way, but I'm not holding my breath for a just decision. Let's hope I'm wrong.)

And consider this: After the first trial, the then Minister of Immigration took only five minutes to issue a deportation order against Zündel, who is still a German citizen. Compare that with the decision of an immigration appeal board to allow an immigrant from Guyana to stay in Canada. The immigrant was a member of a gang that specialized in robbing restaurants. During an armed robbery of a McDonald's restaurant, he had brutally attacked the 21-year-old female manager and threatened to rape other female employees. After six months in jail, he was released on parole, but then had his parole revoked on account of drug offenses. This fellow has been given permission to stay in our country. Don't hold your breath in the hope that Zündel will receive equally generous treatment. Zündel's German.

Views on the Holocaust

Let me conclude with some views on theHolocaust. I don't know whether six million Jews died in Europe during the war, but I have my doubts about it. That would be six times as many British and Empire soldiers as died in the whole terrible slaughter of the First World War. To me the Six Million figure is not credible, even though one hears it repeated constantly on television and in the other media. I admit that my view is not based on professional research, but neither is most of the orthodox stuff put forward in the media. Most journalists simply repeat what they have been told. I did much the same when I wrote my memoir P.O.W., in stating in a footnote that millions had died in Auschwitz.

A lot of questions rather naturally come to mind about the Holocaust story. For instance: If the Six Million figure is unquestionably accurate, why is it that Jewish organizations are so keen to hound those who dispute it? Although I was in the war for six years, it wouldn't bother me one bit if some group were running around claiming that the war didn't take place. I know it did. I suspect, therefore, that there's some truth to the Jewish quip that "there's no business like Shoah business." This is not to say, of course, that Jews were not disgracefully treated and that a large number of them did not die, simply because they were Jews.

There are other flaws in the official story. We knew there were crematoria in Bergen-Belsen when I saw the camp in 1945, but no one talked about gas chambers. Indeed, we did not hear of gas chambers at that time, nor did I ever see any. So I was surprised later to read reports in the press that there had been gas chambers at Belsen. Well, I thought, maybe I missed something. Later, it turned out that, in fact, there had been none in any of the concentration camps in western Germany, including Belsen. The extermination gas chambers, it was said later, had all been in the East.

During my recent visit to Poland, I found Auschwitz to be a decidedly gloomy place. I am confident that during the war it was a hell hole. When our tour of the camp began, we were told that four million people had died there. But by the time we left, the guide was saying that some Polish sources were putting the total at one million. The four million figure, we were told, had been announced by the Soviets soon after they arrived at the camp in 1945. It was also featured in the Soviet film about Auschwitz that is shown to visitors. But now the Poles, as well as Israeli professor Yehuda Bauer, have reduced that total by more than half. Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust center says that it makes no difference to the Six Million figure we are always hearing about. If that is so, it must be a true marvel of mathematics.

All of this is very confusing. Also puzzling is that Auschwitz survivors are to be found in such large numbers. I understand that there are thousands of them in the Chicago area alone. Well, if the Nazi killing machine was so efficient, how is that any survived? Perhaps that's too simple a question. But as I've said, I'm a simple fellow. I could go on in this vein, but as I've told you, I have no claim to be an expert on this subject. I can claim some knowledge, however, of related matters. I recognize attacks against open discussion and free speech, no matter how clever the casuistry in which they are clothed. And I don't want to hear anyone say they are in favor of freedom of speech but … Freedom of speech is indivisible. You either have it or you don't. I know, too, that the common weal is not served by hate laws passed by weak-minded politicians who would sell their mothers for a vote or a campaign contribution. I am equally sure that war crimes trials held fifty years after the end of the war are unlikely to serve the ends of justice, but are very likely to serve the endsof vengeance. As Lord Hailsham said in Britain during the debate over "war crimes" legislation in that country: "What these people want is a lynching party."


Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 365-370.