The Holocaust Historiography Project

Historical News And Comment

Critique of John S. Conway’s Review of Walter Sanning’s Dissolution of Eastern European Jewry, From The International History Review, August, 1985

Dan Desjardins

An the annals of anti-revisionism, one does not often find establishment academia types appraising revisionist works directly. However, Dr. A. R. Butz has recently discovered just such an endeavor, involving, indeed, a book to which he wrote the preface: Walter Sanning’s The Dissolution of Eastern European Jewry. The deed was done by one John S. Conway, of the University of British Columbia, writing for The International History Review, VII, 3, August 1985, pp 450-51.

After a preamble in which Conway praises Sanning for avoiding sensationalism (i.e., refraining from the assertions that gas chambers never existed or that the Holocaust is mere Zionist propaganda), he launches into a reasonable summary of Sanning’s demographic findings. Conway even acknowledges the extensive use of Jewish and Israeli sources in establishing Jewish population shifts into the Soviet Union, revealing that much of European Jewry avoided the German advance and did not reside within its sphere of occupation. However, Conway then deplores that these same documents are not used to establish Nazi crimes. The implied grievance would be that in using Jewish and Israeli documents, one ought to do so in a way which would most plead Jewish and Israeli partisans, else one is not properly reciprocating for services rendered. I here proclaim a minor truth: if one trusts a source in instances, one is not obliged to endorse the entirety; and if one uses a source in instances, one is not obliged to use anything but what is relevant to the purposes at hand. In this regard it was unwittingly apt that Conway chose to preface his complaint with the words “needless to say:” for that is it, exactly. By contrast to Sanning’s half measures, Conway is prepared to demote the credibility of Sanning’s entire thesis because the latter calls Operation Barbarossa (the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union) a “preventive aggression.” I shall not argue that pre-Barbarossan Soviet aggression against Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, and Eastern Poland might have established any sort of plausible trend, but instead ask that Mr. Conway take this up with fellow historians Toland, Irving, Diwald, and Franz-Willing — for their reputations are in question here also.

Mr. Conway readily admits that he is not a competent demographer, but is certain that if one were found, he “would expose many of the errors in this work.” I might ask: does Conway specifically know which data are in error and which are not; and if not, how does he “know” that there are “many” errors, or that there are errors at all? Still lacking the demographer’s expertise, Conway elaborates his suspicions to include “juggled figures” and “dubious conjectures about demographic trends, fertility patterns, death rates, emigration opportunities, and other equally unverifiable suppositions …” I am afraid that I am in the same predicament regarding Conway as Conway is regarding Sanning. There is one major difference, however. Whereas Sanning provides various data, tables, and background as the foundation of his conjectures, Conway’s suppositions are unverifiable on their face: no evidence, no contrary information, no examples by which to substantiate his accusations, no information whatsoever, other than his own bald assertions. Because of this, such generalizations cannot be investigated or refuted except in a general way. I will say only this: to the degree that Conway uses his claim of “dubiousness” as an inference that Sanning’s conjectures are false, he is liable to the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam: the proposition that if a thing cannot be proven (i.e., “unverifiable"), it is necessarily disproved. Both Dr. Butz, in his prefatory remarks to the text, and Sanning, its author, are aware that certain estimates “have no claim on absolute certainty” (p. 11). A similar intellectual honesty, however, might ask to know why Sanning’s “unverifiable suppositions” are necessarily dubious, while suppositions based on the same Jewish, Israeli and Allied sources by persons such as Poliakov, Reitlinger, or Dawidowicz do not suffer any such reservation. Whereas Conway is rather undemocratic in this regard, he is otherwise the perfect egalitarian: he implicitly suggests that Sanning’s suppositions are equivalently unverifiable, while in actuality they are equal only to the degree that Conway’s claims themselves cannot be verified because they remain mere innuendo, without a single example specified.

As with unmentioned Nazi crimes, Conway is similarly distressed that concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Chelmo, Majdanek, and Treblinka are not mentioned. The defense, I suspect (as Faurisson gives for not mentioning Babi Yar or the Sonderkommando), is that it is not a necessary part of the subject. But I give Conway credit in recognizing that it could have been. Sanning might have attempted to determine from concentration camp records the number of Jews interned throughout the German occupied countries. If this is possible, assuming the existence or accuracy of such records, I do not know. Admittedly, it would have been an interesting study to determine the numbers of Jews actually held in such camps versus the numbers which were present at the time of liberation. Still, Conway should be advised that this itself would not necessarily determine the cause of death for those who perished, or that death ought necessarily to be assumed for those who were missing

Conway closes his review of Sanning with a final extended chastisement, which I quote:

This book is in fact no more than a perverse attempt to concoct a contrived analysis of the Jewish 'population changes' during the Second World War, which not only mendaciously exonerates the Nazis, but hypocritically seeks to create a distorted account of the Jewish experience which does without the Holocaust, without Hitler, without history at all.

Conway does not simply say that Sanning may have derived mistaken or faulty conjectures, but that his analysis was a wilful and perverse attempt at concoction. I think Conway was a bit injudicious. He is claiming no less than libel, and may be subject to same.

For Conway, it is obvious that no purpose dealing with the Jewish experience during World War II can be historical if certain features are missing, i.e., concentration camps, “Holocaust,” and Hitler. I must first register dismay that academia counts among its members persons with this low an opinion of the meaning of history. Secondly, it is unfortunate that this is the paltry level of intellect with which Revisionism must sometimes contend. Whereas Conway earlier refers to a misuse of alleged erudition disregarding Sanning’s “unverifiable suppositions,” I would have to say that this is certainly in contradistinction to Mr. Conway’s disuse of same. For while Conway’s complaint seems to focus on the impropriety of Sanning’s analysis, i.e., that it “exonerates” Nazis while “distorting” the experience of Jews, he reveals an ignominious and thoroughly unacademic criterion in his critique: not concern with truth for its own sake or the sake of history, but history primarily as a servant to politics and philosophy. Sanning reiterates his book’s purpose on page 196:

The purpose of this analysis was not to investigate the content of truth in the “Holocaust” story, but to outline the extent and the direction of the Jewish population movement before during and after World War Two.

This is certainly his right as a demographer, and reasonably so, as it is sharply delineated and restricted to the authors field of expertise. I would instead question that any account which attempts to elaborate Nazi crimes, the daily routine of concentration camps or the life and death of Adolf Hider is within She reasonable scope of the intended analysis. It is not Sanning’s demographic study which “distorts” accounts of the Jewish experience, but Conway’s demands, which attempt to distort this specific purpose by insisting on a general one. Though Conway has elsewhere expressed appreciation that Sanning does not openly deny the Holocaust, this is not enough: full satisfaction demands Sanning proclaim its existence as a foundation to his study. This is not to say that this should be satisfactory to the purposes of a demographer — or a historian.

Sanning’s book has amassed 24 tables, 453 references and footnotes quoting 98 publications and authors (almost entirely Allied, Zionist, and other “sympathetic” sources), with 205 pages of text. Conway has condemned the entirety by simply claiming “errors” (which supposedly will require the services of a demographer to expose), “juggled figures” and “dubious conjectures” (accusations unelaborated and without any example), “contrived analysis” (Conway’s reciprocity here is 1.2 pages without reference or bibliography), and that Sanning’s account is “without history at all.” To say that there is “no history” if one’s purpose is without Hitler or the “Holocaust” is to redefine history in a rather narrow-minded, precarious and utterly Orwellian fashion. Whether this is a politicized definition, or one which is merely foolish, Conway has made of himself a person whose undocumented attacks defy serious treatment. His review of a work which he considers ahistorical is ironically performed in a manner which is anti-historical and non-analytic, an approach which carelessly substitutes dogma for integrity: assumptive, unsubstantive, and by his own accusation, hypocritical.


In the interest of fairness we would like to reproduce John S. Conway’s review so our readers can judge for themselves.

About the author

DAN DESJARDINS is an IHR activist who has stirred up the library community in his native Ohio by donating banned books to Wright State University. He holds two bachelor’s degrees (Florida State and University of New Mexico) and is a member of Phi Alpha Theta Historical Society.

Bibliographic information
Author: Desjardins, Dan
Title: Critique of John S. Conway’s Review of Walter Sanning’s Dissolution of Eastern European Jewry, From The International History Review, August, 1985
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Fall 1987
Issue: Volume 7 number 3
Location: Page 375
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.