The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book Reviews

History, Hitler, and the Holocaust

  • EBERHARD JÄCKEL. Hitler in History. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1984. Pp. 115;
  • GERALD FLEMING. Hitler and the Final Solution. Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1984. Pp. 219;
  • MALCOLM C. MACPHERSON. The Blood of His Servants. New York: The New York Times Book Co., Inc., 1984. Pp. 310; ISABELLA LEITNER. Fragments of Isabella: A Memoir of Auschwitz. New York: Crowell Publishers, 1978. Pp. 112;
  • JAMES BENTLEY. Martin Niemöller 1891-1984. New York: Free Press, 1984. Pp. 253;
  • SAUL S. FRIEDMAN. The Oberammergau Passion Play: A Lance Against Civilization. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984. Pp. 270;
  • DAVID S. WYMAN, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Pp. 445;
  • WALTER N. SANNING. The Dissolution of Eastern European Jewry. Torrance, Cal: Institute for Historical Review, 1983. Pp. 239.

Reviewed by John S. Conway

As Archibald MacLeish once remarked, “We are deluged with facts but we have lost or are losing our human ability to feel them.” He might well have continued: “It is possible to refuse full realization of unprecedented horror because we are unable to face the implications of these facts.” Or as William Shawcross has recently written, “Few people want to believe tales of atrocities; resistance to them is a natural defence mechanism. And the more awful the speculations, the greater the resistance.” Such was the case when the news of the annihilation of Europe’s Jews first became known in the 1940s. The rational scepticism of the experts and the innocent incredulity of ordinary citizens could not embrace the rumors and reports seeping out of Nazi-controlled Europe. In subsequent decades, the same factors have widely affected the reception of the “Holocaust” as it is now called, so that witnesses, survivors, and historians alike still have an uphill battle to gain full acceptance for any objective and complete description of the twentieth century’s most portentous genocide. As a notorious recent trial in Toronto has shown, there are still some extremists who wish to disbelieve the accumulation of evidence, preferring to convince themselves that the Holocaust story is a deliberate post-war hoax, perpetuated by a world-wide conspiracy of Jews, Freemasons, and Bolsheviks and designed to bring into discredit the otherwise admirable German nation. This defiance of the available contemporary evidence about the Nazi state and its intentions, and of the vast researches of scholars during the past four decades on the extermination of the Jews, must be judged intellectually dishonest and obscene. “It is an appalling lie that the Holocaust did not happen; it is a monstrous truth that it did.”

Finally, a piece of sophisticated Holocaust detail. Walter Sanning, one of the team who writes for the Institute for Historical Review in Torrance, California, avoids the kind of sensationalism exhibited in the recent Toronto trial. He does not assert that the gas chambers never existed, that the Holocaust is mere Zionist propaganda, or that the Nazis were basically respectable citizens. Instead, Sanning claims to have undertaken a detailed examination of the population statistics of eastern Europe, and in particular of the Jewish inhabitants, in order to show that the extermination figures attributed to the. Nazis are greatly exaggerated, because there simply were not that many Jews-no more than 3.5 million-in all the areas controlled by the Germans. For example, Sanning claims that emigration and death had already, by 1939, reduced to 2.6 million the 3 million Jews in Poland in 1931, and that thereafter no fewer than 2.1 million Jews were deported by the Soviet Union to Siberia, including such notable figures as Menachem Begin. More escaped through other routes, leaving only 750,000 in German-controlled Poland by 1941. For obvious reasons, the Germans exaggerated the figures in order to justify their policies, while the Soviets have imposed a total silence. Sanning makes the further claim that the large number of Jews in Russian-controlled Poland in 1941 and other populations in the Ukraine, the Baltic countries and western Russia were forcibly deported early in 1941 to work in the relocated industries behind the Urals. Thus, only 720,000 Soviet Jews fell into German hands in 1941-2, mostly older people in any case liable to higher death rates through natural causes. But the vast majority must have survived the war, since the figures of Jews present after 1945 amount to nearly this total. The fate of the Jews deported by the Russians to Siberia was far worse (by implication than those under Nazi control). He quotes extensively from Jewish and Israeli sources to prove how large the Jewish population in the Soviet Union had become by 1950, with a view to establishing that the eastern European Jewry had “dissolved” without any participation by the Germans. Needless to say, neither the same sources nor Nazi wartime documents are quoted about the Nazi crimes. Despite the warm endorsement of Sanning’s statistical tabulations by A.R. Butz, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, the credibility of his thesis is not enhanced by such absurd claims as that the German invasion of the Soviet Union was purely “preventive” in order to forestall a planned Soviet aggression. It will require the services of a competent demographer to expose many of the errors in this work. The potpourri of juggled figures, using dubious conjectures about demographic trends, fertility patterns, death rates, emigration opportunities, or other equally unverifiable suppositions, adds up to a misuse of alleged erudition. Naturally, Auschwitz, Chelmo, Majdanek, or Treblinka are not mentioned. 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.

Bibliographic information
Author: Conway, John S.
Title: History, Hitler, and the Holocaust
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: Fall 1987
Issue: Volume 7 number 3
Location: Page 379
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.