"A Holocaust museum is built in Washington. Sixty-five million people watch 'Schindler's List.' The German president apologizes to Israel. Then what can you say about these guys who say the Holocaust never happened? They're a fringe movement of charlatans.”
-- Michael Berenbaum, identified as “a distinguished professor of Holocaust studies at Clark University,” quoted in Forward, April 14, 2000, p. 20. Berenbaum has also served as director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and director of Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation."The Pope deposes and crowns emperors and excommunicates kings to bend them to his will. England, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and other lands are papal vassals. The schism with Constantinople has ended. The Pope's Lateran Council has not only acted to clarify the practice of the Faith and moved against heresy, but has also established rules for education and instituted long overdue reforms in the civil law. Then what can you say about these guys who say the Donation of Constantine is a forgery? They're a fringe movement of charlatans.”
-- A non-existent commentator in 1216 A.D., in a statement concocted by this author in 2000 A.D.
In this paper I wish to focus on three broad subjects, making remarks of general interest.
From 1945 to 1953 the western Allies gathered the surviving records of the Nazi Party, and affiliated organizations such the SS, into a collection that was housed at the “Berlin Document Center” (BDC) under the jurisdiction of the US Army. In 1953 jurisdiction was transferred to the US Department of State. The expenses of operating the BDC were borne by the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG or West Germany).[note 1]
Most of the records at the BDC were biographical files, such as Nazi Party membership records and SS personnel files. Some non-biographical records were transferred to the FRG in 1959-1962, many after being microfilmed by the American Historical Association or the Hoover Institution for the use of scholars.
In 1989 the Bundestag of the FRG unanimously requested the transfer of the BDC files to German control. An agreement to do this, effective July 1, 1994, was reached in October 1993, subject to the condition that all records would first be microfilmed, at German expense, the microfilms being turned over to the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In the process the BDC system of “finding aids” was to be reproduced, and a computer data base of the files was to be created, for the use of NARA.[note 2]
I was happy to hear of this development, but I became alarmed when I read in a September 1994 publication of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL):[note 3]The League is working with Members of Congress and non-governmental representatives to establish a group to monitor access to Nazi documents and records which were recently transferred to the control of the German government. The records, the largest and most valuable collection of materials documenting the Third Reich, are stored in the Berlin Document Center.
The correct interpretation of “monitor access” was not clear. The most obvious interpretation, and the one that alarmed me, was that access to the NARA microfilm files would be effectively blocked to revisionists and other unapproved prying eyes.
The ADL and other Jewish representatives had testified in the congressional hearings on the transfer in April 1994. However in these hearings the only concern relevant to monitoring was a concern that the Germans may not permit free access to their original files while the microfilming was in progress, following warnings by Gerald Posner in a New Yorker article.[note 4] My worry did not appear to be confirmed by these hearings.
Recently I sought to use the NARA BDC collection for a specific purpose. The famous internal SS investigation of Konrad Morgen netted Karl Koch, commandant of Buchenwald, Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, of “Schindler's List” notoriety, and a number of smaller fry, one of them being the head of the Gestapo office at the Auschwitz concentration camp, SS-Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) Maximilian Grabner. All the SS personnel arrested were charged with corruption, and it is said that Grabner was charged in addition with murdering either 40 or 2,000 prisoners, receiving a death sentence later commuted to twelve years in prison.[note 5] In some versions of the Grabner story, his trial was postponed and never concluded.[note 6] Grabner was executed by the Poles in 1947.[note 7]
Since it is obvious that prosecution by the SS, for murder, of the head of the Gestapo office at Auschwitz does not harmonize with the claim that thousands were killed daily at that camp, I wanted to clarify just what the charges against Grabner were and how they were disposed of. The BDC collection was the obvious source to consult. I wanted his service record.
The BDC archives are vast. There is a published hard copy index for 177 of the 40,000 rolls of microfilm, this index covering mainly non-biographical records.[note 8] I found no help on the Grabner problem there. The really attractive possibility seemed to be the computerized index, which had been promised in the congressional hearings by Dr. Lewis Bellardo of NARA, who assured the hearings that[note 9]we will make records available to all categories of non-government researchers on an equal basis. There will be no “scholarly research” requirement for access … A final note relating to access is that this microfilm is accompanied by a computerized index. The index in conjunction with the microfilm allows the researcher to search much more quickly for a selected file than if the search had to be conducted using manual indexes and paper records.
In these days of e-everything I thought I was entitled to assume that the computerized index was accessible through the NARA web site (www.nara.gov) but I could not find it there. An e-mail address for inquiry was given, however, so I inquired about access to the computerized index. I was told thatUnfortunately, the computerized index worked fine in Berlin, but not here in the US. So it is not available. We do have rolls lists for all the microfilm, however, showing first and last names on each roll. But there are many separate collections comprising the BDC microfilm, so multiple searches of microfilm are usually necessary. How can we help you further?
I then inquired whether the computerized index is available on a web server in Berlin, and the answer was: “No, it was never meant to be online for the public, just for in-house use.”
Having exhausted all possibilities of searching the BDC files myself, I told the NARA staffer that I was looking for the service record of Grabner. He could not find it, explaining that “Not all the SS records survived the war,” but he found one document that at least mentioned Grabner as head of the Gestapo office at Auschwitz. He sent it to me but it shed no light on the problem of interest.
The NARA staffer seemed to be as helpful as he reasonably could be. The impediments I encountered were not put there by him, but they are there nevertheless. I noticed no mechanism for keeping revisionists out, but I was disappointed. The promises in Lewis Bellardo's congressional hearings testimony have not been kept, and it is very difficult for US-based individual researchers to search the BDC files without spending a prohibitive amount of time examining rolls of microfilm.
As for the computerized index that works in Berlin but not elsewhere, the situation seems ludicrous. If the data exists in electronic form, it can be set up to be accessed and searched on the Internet with appropriate software design requiring an effort only a fraction of what was required to compile the index in the first place. It is not clear to me whether the Germans use the computerized index. If they do, I doubt they would be cooperative with requests from abroad for searches, since NARA does not seem to have access to the index itself. As for the option of a revisionist going to Germany to use the computerized index, the Leuchter, Irving and Töben cases make that a bad joke.
In summary, it may be just an accident that the situation is bad for revisionists, but in any case it is bad.
It was taken for granted in the preceding that computer and Internet usage is now a commonplace in the gathering of information. Despite the lack of a Berlin Documents Center online search function, a development of recent years has been the availability of much information on the web. The information can be computer searched, with or without downloading. Some good archives that I have downloaded for that purpose have been the Adelaide Institute newsletters (www.adelaideinstitute.org), the English translation of Grundlagen zur Zeitgeschichte (www.vho.org), Dissecting the Holocaust,[note 10] and the Irving-Lipstadt trial transcripts (www.fpp.co.uk/online.html). Searching these sources may not bring up exactly the information you want, but even then you may get pointed in the right direction.
There are many other documents at these sites and also the CODOH (www.codoh.com) and IHR (www.ihr.org) web sites, but you have to be selective in downloading specific articles. I look forward to Robert Faurisson's four volume Écrits Révisionnistes becoming available in electronic form. Dare I also hope for an English translation?
One can also search the web without downloading. In this connection I should mention the search engines available on Germar Rudolf's web site, at www.vho.org/Search/searchRev.html, and on the IHR site at www.ihr.org. These search the main revisionist web sites for search terms supplied by the user. However in most cases when research is being done then a limitation in a web search to only revisionist web sites does not seem wise to me. The well known search engines such as Altavista have a general scope. One of the big problems with such general searches is that they often return thousands of unhelpful and/or irrelevant sites, but careful choice of search terms can mitigate this problem.
During his recent trial David Irving made available on his web site the “expert opinion” that Robert Jan Van Pelt prepared for Irving's adversaries in the trial. This raises historiographic issues in the sense of how conclusions should be drawn from historical data. I read some of this and I was surprised, as others have been, to see Van Pelt claim that the roles of Auschwitz, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka as extermination camps were “moral certainties.” In his report he appears to define “moral certainty” as something between “beyond reasonable doubt” and “unqualified certainty,” but then he applies it to the claims of the legend in connection with Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, while admitting that the evidence is scant for those places. Thus I am not sure how to interpret the phrase as he uses it, and he probably isn't either.[note 11]
In any case I read part of Van Pelt's report, including the part dealing with my book The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, and the reading confirmed the inference, that has been made before by me and others, that the Auschwitz legend rests entirely on alleged eye witness accounts. The “extermination” cannot be deduced, or even suspected, from the documents, from the ordinary historical record of how the principals behaved, or from physical evidence at the site. All of the material means that play a role in the legend (for example, Zyklon, crematories) have in fact non-homicidal interpretations, with dual homicidal interpretations being supplied by the alleged eye witnesses. Van Pelt's report also confirms the opinion I expressed many years ago, that in these debates[note 12] we must maintain context and perspective and above all be on our guard against being tricked into quarreling so much over details that we lose sight of simple observations, as I shall explain.[note 13]
I think it is fair to say that today the defenders of the legend argue, with an exception to be noted, not that available forensic evidence shows that the gassings took place, but that it was possible that they took place. This is something that must be inferred from their writings, because they don't put it that way and maintain an air of dogmatic certainty. A good example is their defense against the Leuchter and later investigations relating to cyanide residues in the crematoria at Auschwitz.[note 14] In the most honest versions of their defense they concede the main point, namely that the residues are very scarce in the alleged homicidal gas chamber in the crematory structures, but exist in abundance in the walls of a nearby delousing gas chamber, in the form of iron-cyanide compounds. Then they argue in effect, employing largely unsupported technical assertions and making adjustments in “eye witness” testimonies, that the results do not exclude that people were gassed in the structures in question.[note 15]
In my 1992 IHR conference paper I said that the procedure is like sawing off a tree limb that one is sitting on.[note 16] The logic is circuitous. We are told to believe the gassing stories, not because the documents and physical evidence say so, but because the witnesses say so. Then we are told that we should make some adjustments in the accounts of the witnesses, because features of their testimonies are inconsistent with the alleged fact of the gassings.
A dishonest version of their defense is to ignore the delousing gas chamber issue entirely, as is done in the Errol Morris film on Fred Leuchter entitled “Mr. Death"; at least, that was how it was handled in the version I saw last February. Another instance of this dishonesty, which could perhaps be dismissed as blazingly stupid rather than dishonest, was taken in that 1994 report of the Institute of Forensic Research in Cracow.[note 17] The argument, to the extent that it was intelligible enough to be summarized at all, was that they did not understand how the iron-cyanide compounds got to be there, so they decided to ignore them in reaching their conclusions. I don't understand how the moon got there, so I will ignore all effects associated with it, such as tides. I hope I don't drown.
Revisionists have carried this point as far as necessary. The legend's defenders are claiming “events continental in geographic scope, of three years in temporal scope, and of several million in scope of victims,"[note 18] and they must provide commensurate evidence. They are claiming events that by their nature and scale would leave emphatic commensurate evidence, physical and otherwise. A few witnesses won't do, just as they wouldn't do if the claim were that New York City burned down. When we dissect such witness testimony we play a game in which larger issues are not at stake. Never forget that. If I can't offhand find internal contradictions in the testimony of a man who claims that New York City burned down, you would not conclude that it did burn down.
Van Pelt's report resurrected the defense of the legend offered in Michael Shermer's article a few years ago in his Skeptic magazine.[note 19] In his critique of revisionism Shermer chose to give prominence to the unusual word “consilience,” apparently coined in 1840 by the English philosopher William Whewell. The word has been used more recently as the title of a book by Edward O. Wilson to mean “a 'jumping together' of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation,” or in Whewell's words what “takes place when an Induction, obtained from one class of facts, coincides with an Induction, obtained from another different class. This consilience is a test of the Theory in which it occurs.” Wilson's book argues for the application of the methods of the natural sciences to the social sciences and the humanities, to achieve a grand synthesis.[note 20]
Shermer also proposes to apply a test of a “convergence of evidence” as “a less cumbersome phrase.” I think that is also a more acceptable phrase than “consilience,” because the various classes of evidence that Shermer considers are not from diverse fields of study. They are the usual sources that have been assembled by those who have been specifically interested in pressing the genocide claim.
If a true “convergence of evidence” is sought then we must of course consider the behavior of the Allies at the time, the behavior of the Red Cross, the behavior of the Vatican, the behavior of the German opposition to Hitler, the behavior of the Jewish organizations, the vast numbers of Jews in Europe immediately after the war, many in camps and bound for Palestine, the USA, and other destinations (often employing concealment and deception in regard to their numbers and identities), the contemporaneous German documents, the aerial photos, the lack of physical evidence for “extermination,” and the lack of evidence for engineering design projects to create equipment for the extermination of large numbers of human beings in gas chambers (remember it hadn't been done before — they say the Germans silently adapted other means to the novel and gigantic undertaking). That is a real test of convergence. Long ago, I wrote an article presenting this convergence of evidence, though I didn't call it that. The article was entitled “Context and Perspective in the Holocaust Controversy,” and was given in lecture form at the IHR conference in 1982.[note 21]
Though he says the test of historical truth is a “convergence of evidence,” Shermer presents first only “A Case Study in Convergence” and then explains that “it is not possible in a magazine-length article to adequately cover all of the points made above” (that is, the general case for convergence). How is it, then, that I say that I wrote an article presenting a convergence of evidence, but Shermer could not? It is very simple. I could refer to other works on how the Allies acted, how the Vatican acted, how the Jewish organizations acted, and so forth. Books had been written about massive Jewish movements after World War II, and virtually all books on the subject acknowledge that an extermination program is not to be found in the German documents. All studies of the German concentration camps acknowledge the high death rates due to disease, the use of Zyklon for hygienic purposes, and the cremation of the victims. Other investigators, virtually all of whom would have rejected my conclusions, had done the work for me. Shermer said he could not present the convergence because he was only writing an article. I say he couldn't present it because it wasn't there.
Shermer avoided considering how the various principals acted; that perspective is missing. He could not find any scholarship to correspond to the massive scholarship that supports the revisionist observations, such as “nobody acted as if it was happening,” or “at the end of the war, the Jews were still there,” or “the German documents speak of a program of expulsion and resettlement,” or “catastrophic death scenes in the camps in 1945 were fraudulently represented as evidence of intentional extermination.” On our adversaries' side, there are only such things as “leading Nazis said…,” or “all historians say…,” or “survivors say,” or “Höss confessed that,” or “this inmate testified that.”
Having been unable to argue “convergence,” Shermer examines two special subjects: Nazi statements about exterminating or annihilating Jews and the gas chamber/crematoria issue. Thus he ends up arguing special points rather than convergence.
He begins with the occasional Nazi use of the German word “Ausrottung” (extermination) in application to the Jews. He is right in saying that the standard translation is “extermination"; moreover the standard translation of “Vernichtung,” also sometimes used by Nazis, is “annihilation.” However in actual practice in English both words can be used in contexts where they are not taken to mean killing, and a further complication is that the Nazis were notorious for hyperbole or rhetorical inflation; for example, everything they did had to be the “greatest,” or “most glorious,” and so forth.
Without realizing it Shermer demolishes his case on this matter with a February 18, 1937, quote from Himmler, addressing a meeting of his Gruppenführers:[note 22]I have the conviction that the Roman emperors, who exterminated (ausrotteten) 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.
Shermer's problem is that it does indeed seem that Himmler is claiming that he is physically exterminating Communists and/or Jews, and there were many of both in Germany then. It would be very difficult to argue, on the basis of internal analysis, against such an interpretation. However Germany was not doing such things in 1937. Communist leaders and other political enemies had only been put into concentration camps.
If Himmler can seem to claim mass killings that did not actually exist, where does that place later occasional comparable statements by him and other Nazi leaders? In a discussion of this problem in my book The Hoax of the Twentieth Century I remarked that in connection with comparable statements Hitler “could have chosen his words more carefully."[note 23] I have been a butt of ridicule for that passage, but I stand by the statement and the analysis.
The second special subject that Shermer takes up is the gas chamber/crematory issue, which has given rise to a second basis for ridicule of my work, as I shall explain. However the general issue has been well worked over in other revisionist writings and I shall not take it up here. I only remark in this connection that Shermer misrepresented the results of the forensic investigations discussed above, by claiming that “forensic tests have now been conducted demonstrating the homicidal use of both the gas chambers and the crematoria for the express purpose of exterminating large numbers of prisoners.” That is an amazing lie that the other defenders of the legend are not guilty of, as far as I know.[note 24]
It is common for promoters and defenders of the legend to focus only on Germany, an elementary historiographic error. Alas, revisionists also commit it. When there is a focus elsewhere, the scope of the exposition is similarly limited. For example a treatise excoriating the wartime Pope, for not acting as though a “Holocaust” were in progress, will not properly take into account that nobody else so acted.
A focus distributed on all principals can throw light on what may seem mysterious or enigmatic if considered out of its historical context. In another phase of his discourse on the use of the word “Ausrottung,” Shermer reproduces and discusses a memo from Rudolf Brandt, a member of Reichsführer SS Himmler's personal staff, to the chief of the security police and SD in Berlin, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, dated February 22, 1943.[note 25] It says “On the instructions of the Reichsführer-SS, I am transmitting herewith to you a press dispatch on the accelerated extermination (Ausrottung) of the Jews in occupied Europe.” Shermer did not point out, though his source did, that the press report involved was the story that appeared eight days earlier, on February 14, 1943, in both the London Times and the New York Times, headed in the latter case “Execution 'Speed-Up' Seen,” and on which the New York Times commented editorially on February 18.[note 26] Both Shermer and his source consider the document incriminating, but I can't see why mere transmission of a story implies acceptance of it as truth. I often send a revisionist some piece of Holocaust propaganda without insulting the other's intelligence by explaining to him that I think its claims are false. In the case of the Brandt letter, the press report referred to there figured in a clash later in 1943 between the US State Department and Henry Morgenthau's Treasury Department, because the former considered the story, received from Jewish sources in Switzerland, bunk, and sat on it, as I discussed long ago in The Hoax of the Twentieth Century.[note 27] There is no reason to assume Himmler thought otherwise of it.
History should be written in cognizance of all principals, and in the case of the “Holocaust” legend the conclusion such evidence converges to is obvious. The legend's defenders got jolted in the early 80s. For example Walter Laqueur used ordinary historical methods in his study focused on Auschwitz, entitled The Terrible Secret, and the result was a book that, with just a little bit of tweaking, would be a revisionist book. Laqueur merely applied ordinary historical methods and common sense to observe that mass exterminations at Auschwitz were a “terrible secret,” that is, not generally known, and that mass exterminations at Auschwitz could not have been kept secret. While Laqueur did not draw the obvious conclusion, the fact remains that he had simply taken the sort of historical and logical perspective that otherwise proves to us that New York City did not burn down, and excuses us from considering the claims of alleged eye witnesses who might say otherwise.
Ordinary historical analysis can't find a “Holocaust.” They pretend to find it with the methods of funny history. Don't forget that either.
Nevertheless we should not ignore their narrow selection of evidence, especially because final comprehension of it can elucidate unpredictable matters. A special emphasis in Van Pelt's critique of my work is on the difficulties I have had, over the years, with one document. I am speaking of the “Vergasungskeller” document that I have spoken and written of before, so I will not repeat myself unnecessarily.[note 28] Suffice it to say that my 1976 book offered an interpretation that was linguistically and technically sound, but turned out to be wrong, my 1992 IHR conference paper speculated on various interpretations that made technical sense but did not fix on any one, and my 1996-1997 paper proposed that the “Vergasungskeller” was a reference to a basement morgue in crematory structure (Krema) II in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in its secondary role as a gas shelter. Van Pelt tries to present my fluctuating interpretations on this one document as ridiculous.
The point I want to make right now is not the right interpretation of the document in question. In reading Van Pelt a contrast occurred to me. I could not imagine Van Pelt or any of the other defenders of the legend giving such an extended treatment, over many years, to the interpretation of a single document. Why the difference? I think it is because for us problematic documents are exceptions or aberrations. We let documents mean what they say so that for us, for example, the countless German documents speaking of the Jewish policy as one of emigration mean what they say. “Sonderbehandlung,” special treatment, has no necessary homicidal interpretation. A shower is just that, as is a morgue.
On their side, one of the hermeneutic principles (to use a more charitable term than “methods of funny history") is that documents are to be interpreted under the a priori constraint that the policy was one of extermination. Another arbitrary constraint that I have inferred is that the number of Jews killed must have been at least four million, though no scientifically acceptable evidence supports such a figure, or even half that.
That being the case, the only sorts of problems they can have with document interpretation are which of the several fixes to apply in specific cases. They are playing with a deck of Jokers. The document may have been in code language, or it may have been written by a person in ignorance of real policies, or, as in the case of crematory construction, the hygienic purposes expressed in the documents may have been genuine at the time the documents were written, but an undocumented decision was later made to apply the equipment otherwise. All these fixes are reasoned in terms of the a priori constraints, and apply to the corpus of records of several governments. They accuse us of dismissing any document that does not fit our preconceptions. They dismiss more than 99 percent of the written historical record.
If they run into a document with a single word they like, then they pounce on that word, ignoring what the document says, as they do with the Vergasungskeller document, whose natural meaning is that the Germans were in a rush to get the crematory into operation as a normal crematory. They claim that the appearance of the allegedly incriminating word was an “enormous gaff” (sic) or a “leak."[note 29]
That is also done in the case of a document that refers to hydrocyanic acid (HCN) gas detectors for an Auschwitz crematory that are supposed to be supplied by the furnace maker Topf. They like the reference to HCN, the lethal ingredient in Zyklon. However they do not observe that the Topf role challenges the assumption that the HCN in this case had anything to do with Zyklon, because there already existed a special department at Auschwitz with the relevant expertise and equipment for the use of Zyklon.[note 30]
I wish that somebody would make an objective evaluation only of the hermeneutics of the defense of the legend. I do not mean an evaluation of the merits of its conclusions. I mean only an evaluation of the historiographic logic and methods that are employed. I prefer that such an evaluation be carried out by somebody in no camp on “Holocaust” controversy. I have already indicated what I think of their methods and logic, and this is what I meant earlier when I said that “we must maintain context and perspective and above all be on our guard against being tricked into quarreling so much over details that we lose sight of simple observations.” It is permissible, or at least I hope it is, to become enthralled with the problems of interpreting a single document, but we must not lose sight of the reasons why the defenders of the legend do not have such problems.
As for the idea that the Germans did not consign the extermination program to writing because it would be incriminating, I have on other occasions tried to express how silly that idea is.[note 31] Moreover this claim clashes with the claim (by Shermer, for example) that leading Nazis publicly admitted physical extermination, because such public admissions would obviate the need for code language in confidential government documents. At a 1989 conference at Northwestern University on the “Holocaust,” those who wished to ask questions were required to identify themselves before asking. I was recognized by the chairman, rose and identified myself, and asked speaker Saul Friedländer the following: “I want you to clarify something you said earlier. Do you believe that the German leaders calculated that the European Jews could be exterminated in secrecy?” After listening to my question he refused to answer, claiming that I have no respect for the norms of intellectual discourse, or words to that effect.[note 32]
Here it will be seen that the Wilkomirski affair relates directly to the issues of interpretation I have just discussed.
The story of the impostor “Binjamin Wilkomirski” has been generally well known for almost two years, but new revelations were coming out as late as last fall. I think there are some aspects of it that deserve added stress and contemplation. There is more here that the tale of a con man being nabbed.
In 1996 a book appeared, authored by Binjamin Wilkomirski, entitled Fragments: Memories of a Childhood 1939-1948. It had been published the previous year, in its original German. In this book the author related that he was born a Jew in Latvia and was separated from his parents at age three, was sent to German concentration camps, to Majdanek, then Auschwitz, where he endured a living hell. Liberated at the end of the war, he was adopted by a Swiss family named Dössekker, from which he took the name Bruno Dössekker. His memoirs, which immediately won wide acclaim, were promoted by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and won the National Jewish Book Award for 1996. In France his book won the Prix Mémoire de la Shoah, and in Britain the Jewish Quarterly literary prize.
Eventually his tale was supported by a woman named Laura Grabowski, who said she was also a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz and remembered Wilkomirski: “He's my Binji, that's all I know,” she said.[note 33] She had her own tale of suffering at Auschwitz at the hands of Josef Mengele and other Germans, and the scars to prove it. Wilkomirski and Grabowski went on lecture and concert tours individually and together.
Raul Hilberg appears to have been an early skeptic. Swiss Jewish journalist Daniel Ganzfried heard rumors that Wilkomirski's story was not true. He investigated and determined that the Latvian Jew “Binjamin Wilkomirski” was actually a Swiss gentile, born on February 12, 1941, to an unwed Swiss mother named Yvonne Berthe Grosjean, and later adopted by the Dössekker family. He was never incarcerated at Auschwitz. Ganzfried's expose was published in the Swiss weekly Weltwoche during August and September 1998. Wilkomirski subsequently refused to submit to a DNA comparison with Max Grosjean, Yvonne's brother.[note 34]
Laura Grabowski was exposed as a fraud in October 1999 by the Christian magazine Cornerstone. Her real name was Laurel Rose Willson, born to Christian parents on August 14, 1941, in Washington state, and of course she was never incarcerated at Auschwitz. She had earlier written books under the name Lauren Stratford, claiming she had suffered ritual satanic abuse, citing the same scars which she later claimed were inflicted by Mengele. (The scars were apparently self-inflicted.) As such she appeared on talk shows such as Oprah to relate her ordeals. When she decided that she would also be Laura Grabowski, she transposed the stories of ritual satanic abuse to the new setting Auschwitz.[note 35]
An important observation is that the downfalls of Dössekker and Willson did not come about because their claimed experiences were determined to be phony. Though Ganzfried and others thought there was something fishy about Wilkomirski's story in itself, for example, his claim that as a lone Jewish child, four years old, he was able to survive the “Holocaust,” they were nailed on the issue of identity. They are gentiles who were not in a German concentration camp during World War II; they only visited them years later.
They are contrasted for example to Elie Wiesel, who cannot be discredited on the basis of identity, since he is a Jew who was actually interned at Auschwitz. Against Wiesel's concoctions society has yet to develop an effective defense, by listening to revisionists instead of its current leaders. Wilkomirski's Fragments is no more or less plausible, in itself, than Wiesel's Night. For example, Wiesel admitted in Chapter 5 that, when the Germans evacuated Auschwitz, he had the option of staying at the hospital, with his father registered as a patient, to await the Soviets. He chose rather to join the evacuation, taking his father with him, on a predictably difficult journey to another German concentration camp. That is as implausible as anything in Wilkomirski's book if one is to believe Wiesel's tale of the horrors inflicted by the Germans at Auschwitz. His story also has the claim, common among the “eye witnesses,” that the crematories at Auschwitz belched flames from the chimneys (Ch. 3). Crematories do not operate that way, and such flames are not seen on any of the aerial photos of the camp. His claim to have seen piles of children being burned by the Germans at Auschwitz is lifted from the Talmud, with the Romans replaced by the Germans.[note 36] I could go on and on about Wiesel's absurdities, but I won't. I recommend reading Faurisson's 1993 leaflet about him.[note 37] My point right now is that Wilkomirski was discredited only on the basis of identity. We can also observe that the Wilkomirski book shows that the filthy imagination that was required to create Elie Wiesel's Night is not unique to Jews.
What I now want to focus on is the amazing obstinacy of many people in supporting these two, especially Wilkomirski, long after they had been exposed. After Ganzfried published his expose “he received several complaints from Jews who said that, even if Mr. Wilkomirski turns out not to be a survivor, Mr. Ganzfried is feeding the fires of those who deny the Holocaust.” Deborah Lipstadt, who used Wilkomirski's book in her course at Emory University, said that if Wilkomirski is a phony it “might complicate matters somewhat. But [the book] is still powerful” as a novel.[note 38]
There was no attempt to rescind his National Jewish Book Award. Norman Finkelstein has discussed this phenomenon recently, recalling Elie Wiesel's earlier obstinate loyalty to Jerzy Kosinski long after his 1965 “basic Holocaust text,” The Painted Bird, was exposed as a fraud. (Kosinski committed suicide in 1991, perhaps because his fraud had been exposed a few years before by Polish journalist Johanna Siedlecka.) Finkelstein noted that Yisrael Gutman, a director of the Yad Vashem center in Jerusalem, has said it isn't important that the Wilkomirski yarn is a fraud: “Wilkomirski has written a story which he has experienced deeply; that's for sure… He is not a fake. He is someone who lives this story very deeply in his soul. The pain is authentic."[note 39] Another Yad Vashem official who defended the Wilkomirski book when the controversy erupted was Lea Balint.[note 40] Bear in mind that Yad Vashem holds itself to be the central and official repository of “survivor” accounts.
Willson had her devoted friend and supporter in Jennifer Rosenberg, who ran the Holocaust web site www.holocaust.about.com as a counterweight to revisionist web sites. Grabowski-Willson befriended Rosenberg and helped her run the site. On her site Rosenberg related that, before she visited Auschwitz, Laura Grabowski gave her a pair of pink sandals to leave at the crematorium in memory of her childhood friend, Anna, who Laura said died there.
Rosenberg maintained her friendship with Laura for at least five months after Laura was exposed as a fraud, claiming that the imposture was unimportant and not being sure what to do about the posted story of the pink shoes:[note 41]
"Whether I can say this is true or not true, I would have to do my own research.” Ms. Rosenberg says, and adds that she is too busy to do so. Of Laura, whom she still considers a friend, she says, “She's a very sincere and sweet person.”
"If it isn't real, and if Anna isn't real, there are so many young children and babies who went through that… It really was a metaphor for the children. For Laura, it was for Anna. I did it for the children. When I did it I was obviously doing it for Anna, but seeing it there, it was also for all the children, the loss of life, what they should have had, could have had.”
"I don't want to be involved in this… My main goal is to educate people on the Holocaust.” Ms. Rosenberg says she expends significant energy deleting messages with links to the sites of Holocaust deniers such as Mr. Irving and otherwise blocking correspondents who undermine the historical record. Postings to the bulletin board are not pre-screened, so sometimes a denier's comments show up before she can remove them. To keep them away entirely, Ms. Rosenberg says, “I would have to have a 24-hour shift.”
Laura Grabowski knew that censoring the discussion would amount to more than a full time job (so) she said she volunteered to help Ms. Rosenberg monitor the discussion late at night, since she had insomnia. Ms. Rosenberg taught her how.
I think Rosenberg's position is that “to educate people on the Holocaust” consists in suppressing revisionist views, and not being concerned about those views and stories that sound more or less like the usual yarns. Impostors and con-artists such as Wilkomirski and Grabowski are thus not seen as people “who undermine the historical record,” even after exposure. As for the web site, its url has been changed to http://history1900s.about.com. On 21 April I took the “Holocaust” link there and used the site's search function to try to find mention of the pink shoes or Laura Grabowski but I couldn't. I assume that mention of them has been deleted, and Rosenberg has finally lost her friend.
The most significant of all these obstinate friends is, I believe, the American Orthopsychiatric Association (the “Ortho"), an organization of psychiatrists who specialize in various forms of abuse and persecution, especially of children. In March 1999, about six months after Ganzfried's expose, the Ortho announced that at its April 10 meeting it would honor Binjamin Wilkomirski with its Max A. Hayman award “to celebrate work done to increase our understanding of genocide and the Holocaust.” Naturally there was great controversy on the appropriateness of this award, both inside and outside the Ortho. Wilkomirski had the support of psychiatry professor Dori Laub, a scholar long associated with Yale's Holocaust-testimony video archive. Laub argued that the award “re-establishes the priority of human experience and memory” over the written documentation preferred by historians, though the award leaves open the question of the authenticity of Wilkomirski's account. There is no doubt that Wilkomirski's work was “being taken seriously among therapists who treat Holocaust survivors,” and in fact Wilkomirski has worked “with Israeli psychiatrist Elitsur Bernstein in developing 'an interdisciplinary therapy' to treat such child survivors"; a paper by Wilkomirski and Bernstein was well received at a 1998 Holocaust conference at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Ortho member Harvey Peskin, identified as “a Holocaust scholar and psychotherapist,” argued that Wilkomirski's account can be accepted as true because it is “consistent with the memories of other child survivors and with the historical record.” Though Peskin conceded that Wilkomirski could be a phony he argued, and I think I am summarizing him right on this, that denunciation or rejection of Wilkomirski could discourage real Holocaust survivors from coming forward, and would be hurtful to them in any case. He wrote “such disparagement of witness gives comfort to a new revisionism that no longer attacks the truth of the Holocaust itself but only individual claims of survival” and “Wilkomirski [is] then not only disbelieved, but [his] cause cannot be left standing: … to urge the child survivor's recovery of forfeited personal identity through raveling a daunting trail of unforfeited Holocaust memory."[note 42]
Wilkomirski accepted the award at the April 10 meeting, to the standing applause of the attendees, the gist of whose reactions being that his memoirs are essentially true. Lea Balint of the Yad Vashem, an enthusiastic supporter from the beginning and faithful to the end, e-mailed Wilkomirski that “You deserve this award."[note 43] I apologize for repeating that Yad Vashem holds itself to be the central and official repository of “survivor” accounts, but the point is important, in view of the crucial role such testimonies play in supporting the legend. This was not the first time Yad Vashem got mud in its eye for publicly backing a phony, as it vouched for the witnesses who in 1987 testified in Israel to John Demjanjuk operating a gas chamber at Treblinka. Demjanjuk was later proved to have not been at Treblinka, and released in 1993.[note 44]
Cynthia Ozick, a New York writer who has authored an anti-revisionist Holocaust play, The Shawl, which was not well received by critics,[note 45] reacted to the award by declaring “If Mr. Wilkomirski is indeed a fabricator, then to laud him is to take a stand — politically — on the side of those who insist that the Holocaust is a fabrication."[note 46] There is a partial truth in this. I accept the core of the analysis of the psychiatrists who supported the award, in the sense of agreeing that Wilkomirski's account does indeed sound a lot like those of the “survivors” who have testified to atrocious German cruelties in the camps, though I would prefer to turn that around: the accounts of those survivors sound a lot like Wilkomirski's. Because of the Ortho award, you now have that evaluation from a group of professional psychiatrists. Where that leaves the Holocaust peddlers, whose foundation is the accounts of “eye witnesses,” is obvious.
That is the first lesson to draw from the Wilkomirski episode that goes beyond a “tale of a con man being nabbed.” The second lesson relates to a question that I raised at the Adelaide conference in 1998. The immediate occasion was some remarks about Deborah Lipstadt that had been made earlier:[note 47]Earlier today we heard of a concern from their camp that I have heard many times before. This time it was expressed by Deborah Lipstadt: the “survivors” are now dying off at such an alarming rate that it will soon be difficult to confound the revisionists. Such a view can only be advanced in hysteria, because of what it tacitly admits. No sane person would fear that, because all those alive at the time of the US Civil War are now dead, it will be difficult to confound those who might deny it happened. The defenders of the hoax have quite lost their grip on historical reality, and on what it means for something to “happen” in real time and real space.
Lipstadt has many times expressed the view of which I spoke.[note 48] There have been others, an example being Deborah Dwork, co-author with Van Pelt of a book on the history of Auschwitz and head of the Holocaust studies program at Clark University in Massachusetts.[note 49] A related view is expressed in the Berenbaum remark that heads this paper; his argument, that the Holocaust obviously happened, appeals only to well known events of the 90s. I classify these as related views because they imagine the “Holocaust” as something that exists more substantially in the present rather than the past. The Wilkomirski episode forces my thoughts to return to this point. Does our dispute with the defenders of the entrenched legend arise not over what happened, but over what it means for something to “happen"? Is the dispute metaphysical rather than historical? Or is it neither?
My question is urgently practical. If I must try to express in comprehensible terms the metaphysical principle suggested by Lipstadt and many of the defenders of Wilkomirski and Grabowski, I would say it is the idea that “happen” means something like “said, with emotion and apparent conviction, to happen,” or perhaps “believed fervently to have happened,” though both of these descriptions necessarily fall short, as I cannot empathize with the mentality involved. This interpretation is reinforced by the religious function played by the “Holocaust,” which many have observed. Religious faith is self-validating, impervious to reason, and regards proposals to scientifically validate its claims as profane in all senses of the word.
In the recent film about Fred Leuchter, the Jew Van Pelt expresses offense that, by entering the ruins of a crematorium at Auschwitz, Leuchter had transgressed on “the holy of holies.” That expression has a specific historical and liturgical meaning in Judaism as the “Kodesh Kadashim,” being the most sacred chamber housing the Ark of the Covenant in, while the Jews were wandering, the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, and which only the high priest could enter.[note 50] It is in that sense that one must interpret Elie Wiesel's remark “Let the gas chambers remain closed to prying eyes, and to imagination."[note 51] The Temple and the Ark no longer exist; some act as though the ruins at Auschwitz can substitute. In any case, no revisionist would qualify as the high priest.
That might be considered a neat explanation of our differences with the promoters of the legend, but after some consideration I can't accept it, at least not in its simplicity. For one thing, it is not simple. That I have given an interpretation in terms of religious myth may only seem to make the matter more familiar, but I think it has really made it more elusive. It is understood, of course, that I am not speaking here of the historical problems; I am only trying to understand our adversaries.
The complication is that we think of religion as universal and other worldly. Judaism, by contrast, is a tribal religion of this world, in which contention with gentiles is a major ingredient, both in practice and in myth (for example, their “cheerfully reported genocidal wars", as Wilson puts it[note 52]). As Kevin MacDonald writes, Judaism is among other things “a group evolutionary (and) reproductive strategy that facilitates resource competition by Jews with the gentile host society."[note 53] We have nothing in our religious experiences that begins to resemble those of a Jew in relation to Judaism. I believe that, excluding from consideration some idiots, their idea of what it means for something to happen is about the same as ours, but there is a paucity of evidence for what they want to claim happened. As shown by the Laqueur book, the facts of the past do not support them, and they will avoid Laqueur's path henceforth. However they do possess the present, politically. That is emphatically expressed in the Berenbaum outburst that opened this paper. A cold calculation shows that a strong weapon in promoting the legend is bawling “survivors” who will not be challenged because to do so would only increase the hurt to them.[note 54] Kosinski and Wilkomirski may be frauds but, hey, we don't want people to develop a habit of reading such writings critically. That concern simmered, not very well hidden, in the defense of the “Ortho” award to Wilkomirski. People may even start wondering about Elie Wiesel, as did Alfred Kazin, who accused Wiesel, Primo Levi and Jerzy Kosinski “of 'making a fortune off the Holocaust' and inventing atrocities."[note 55] They may even start wondering about those Auschwitz alleged eye witness testimonies, and the Auschwitz legend doesn't have much else.
A variation on the “survivor” is the person who claims to have lost relatives. Usually the right answer to their challenge “What happened to them?” is “I don't know.” That should end the exchange. In rare cases it may be possible, over time, to nail a liar. The case of Leo Laufer in Dallas comes to mind, but even in that case the nailing could not have been accomplished in a verbal exchange between strangers.[note 56]
In many circumstances it is better to possess the present than the past, but the whole point of history is the past. That is what revisionists talk about.
Now I will close by rendering my simple opinion on the Wilkomirski controversy: both sides were right, and the revisionists are right as well. To see how this can be possible, consider in analogy the revisionist assessment of a not very hypothetical debate on whether or not Hitler knew of an extermination program, a controversy that David Irving started in 1977 with his Hitler's War. One side says the evidence shows that Hitler did not know. The other side argues that events on the scale of the “Holocaust” would have to have become known by Hitler. The two sides can't possibly agree because they are both right and know it. Only the revisionist can explain why there is no contradiction in saying both are right, but only provided it is understood that the revisionist is right.
If I may return to Laqueur, a similar seeming contradiction arose as a paradox, because the same man held what appeared to him to be two contradictory opinions: mass exterminations at Auschwitz were a “terrible secret,” and mass exterminations at Auschwitz could not have been kept secret. Only the revisionist sees that there is no contradiction. Laqueur is right on both counts, but of course given his preconceptions he was unable to resolve the contradiction and left the subject. Again, the revisionist resolves the seeming contradiction.
Consider the dispute over the wartime role of Pope Pius XII. One side says he did nothing against the “Holocaust.” The other side says he gave as much help as reasonably possible to the Jews. The dispute is illusory. Both sides are right, as is the revisionist, but only the revisionist has the key. There was no Holocaust for the Pope to act against.
Holocaust revisionism hovered constantly, usually in the background but there nevertheless, in the Wilkomirski controversy. Both sides were right, and of course the revisionists are right, with the new twist that the accusations hurled by the two sides explicitly accuse the other of helping the revisionists. One side says Wilkomirski is a phony; the other says his account emphatically sounds like those that have been accepted as authentic. The dispute is illusory. Both sides are right and so is the revisionist. All accounts comparable to Wilkomirski's are phony. One side says Wilkomirski is an impostor, and defense of him helps the revisionists. The other side says that, even if Wilkomirski is an impostor, rejection of him stains and discourages survivor testimony generally, giving rise “to a new revisionism"; for reasons I have explained that also helps the old revisionism. Both sides are right; the revisionist case is advanced however one reacts to Wilkomirski's fall after his brief dance in the ghoulish spotlight of Holocaustomania adulation.
Arthur R. Butz was born and raised in New York City. In 1965 he received his doctorate in Control Sciences from the University of Minnesota. In 1966 he joined the faculty of Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), where he is now Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In addition to numerous technical papers, Dr. Butz is the author of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, first published in 1976.
This article, copyright (c) by A.R. Butz, is slightly revised from his address delivered on May 27, 2000, at the 13th IHR Conference, in Irvine, California.
|Author:||Arthur R. Butz|
|Title:||Historical Past vs. Political Present|
|Source:||The Journal for Historical Review|
|Issue:||Volume 19 number 6|
|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.|