Editor's note: this is the first in a planned three-part series on Holocaust denial and the culture of skepticism. In Part Two, I will take a close look at Samuel Crowell's thesis presented in his monograph, The Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes. In part three, I will revisit the question of Michel Epstein's fate at Auschwitz and address related foundational questions concerning the nature of proof, knowledge, and doubt.
Worse than a Refuge
Not long ago, a trusted reader referred me to IHR director Mark Weber's editorial, "How Relevant is Holocaust Revisionism?," which seems to have since garnered a lot of attention. The thrust of Weber's argument is neatly distilled in the closing paragraph:
Setting straight the historical record about the wartime fate of Europe's Jews is a worthy endeavor. But there should be no illusions about its social-political relevance. In the real world struggle against Jewish-Zionist power, Holocaust revisionism has proved to be as much a hindrance as a help.
Of course, this tells us far more about Weber's priorities than it does about the relevance of Holocaust revisionism in a more disinterested, or less politically preoccupied, context. The rhetorical shift is really no less predictable than Deborah Lipstadt's obtusely qualified gloating, which soon followed. Judeophiles and anti-Semites dance in practiced formation. The choreography is lockstep, always uninspired.
Opinions are boring. If you must know, I don't think the state of Israel should have been established where and how it was, if at all. But there it is, and there is nothing I can do about it. It bothers me precisely as much as Watergate. The "struggle" to which Mark Weber refers, is not my struggle. I am more interested in mass psychology and the stronghold of taboo; I am more interested in the ideal of intellectual freedom, and the fascinating possibility that some of the most sacred truths of our time may be largely grounded in rumor and propaganda and myth and outright falsehood. I am more interested in the mind of Michael Shermer than in the machinations of a socio-political power structure, which I believe is largely and insipidly rooted in aggregate biopsychology anyway. With the usual caveats, Jews are simply smarter, more creative, funnier, and more consanguine than other critters. They also have better PR. Kevin MacDonald makes curious noises, but honestly, you might as well argue with a barometer. Or try getting used to it.
Weber mentions the presence of Holocaust memorials in virtually every major American city. Yet isn't there something terribly conspicuous and almost desperate about this strange reality? Some Jewish kids will be wise to it. Some already are. These days, the most vocal and prominent critics of Israeli policies are Jewish. And some of the most adamant Zionist cheerleaders are devout Christians. Chomsky is a superstar in every college town. And Finkelstein runs laps around a Harvard-bred plagiarist. If I were chatting it up over drinks with Mark Weber, I'd tell him to check back in a couple of generations.
Spend a few hours with Kevin MacDonald's accidental foil — I'm referring to Yuri Slezkine — and you quickly see that Jewish nationalism is as silly as it is counter-historical. You can stump for a one-state solution, if it makes you feel special. Or you can gerrymander that shitty desert real estate until the demographic tide laps at your design. It's hemlock or cyanide, really. Either way, the specter of an ethno-theocratic clash rears back, and pyrotechnics are assured. The Jewish homeland is a crass bible myth, just like Armageddon. Ancient tall tales embolden the tribes, until there's little left to do but watch the ticker. Count up the corpses and wring your hands over disproportionate response. Or cheer for the home team. With Pat Robertson, if that's your thing.
FDR should have opened the gates, to the disappointment of Herzle's latter day crusaders. Even Madagascar would have been better. Those Haganah rebels would have made short work of the demon lizards, though Leon Uris might not have taken notes.
Whatever animates the ones who persist, their task should remain focused on facts and science and scholarly skunkwork, perhaps with a good deal more appreciation for social psychology, which Crowell alone seems to grasp. But the Jewish Question? Please. That's a fool's distraction. Slezkine's book slaked my curiosity, such as it was, leaving Cochran and Harpending to gild the lily the tip. This is old business. Old money. Old politics. Best left to old souls. Weber and Lipstadt…sitting in a tree.
Ideology is a prickly refuge, but truth for truth's sake — well, that's another matter. There are no illusions here. States come and go, but knowledge is a river.
Stuff White People Like #1245: Condemning Holocaust Denial
— Michael Berenbaum,distinguished professor of Holocaust studies
This has been a difficult project because at times I have felt compelled to prove something I knew to be true. I had constantly to avoid being inadvertently sucked into a debate that is no debate and an argument that is no argument.
— Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust
The basis of human dignity is the right to doubt what our senses apparently tell us, and to accept that there is a second possibility.
Holocaust deniers are intellectual niggers. Prominent columnists and top-flight idea guys routinely flout other cultural taboos, but the same experts and dilettantes instinctively draw the line when the subject turns to genocidal mens rea and inconvenient gas chamberology. Steven Pinker champions the unfettered exploration of "dangerous ideas," but makes the obligatory exception. National Review puts up with John Derbyshire's cantankerously godless blank-slate-scotching racial heresies, but if the blustery Brit ever deigned to take a recreational dip into Germar Rudolf's prolific corpus of writings, he'd be out of a job; consigned to the margins, and he knows it. Even our pocket anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald toes the rhetorical line, perhaps because the idea of genocide fits so sexily within the framework of his teetering group-adaptive thesis. Meanwhile, career skeptics like Michael Shermer and Robert Jan van Pelt play fast and loose with revisionist arguments, leaving an expectant and selectively credulous audience with the assurance that the whole unfortunate business is less coherent — and more nefarious — than the lamest wingnut conspiracy yarns.
Biohistory is chic at the borderlands, at the moment. Cochran and Harpending present a thesis that would have got them thrown off the bus a couple of decades ago, and the critics respond in a qualified thrall. Judith Rich Harris is taken seriously. Charles Murray is taken seriously. Gregory Clark gets a prominent hearing. Phil Rushton isn't facing jail time. And Howard Zinn even blurbs a 9-11 conspiracy book. But no respectable performance iconoclast admits to reading Germar Rudolf, or Arthur Butz, or Robert Faurisson, or Samuel Crowell. Serious right-thinking people may drink from the denialist-debunkers cup from time to time, but they studiously avoid the criminal source material. There are lines. There are laws. There are consequences.
And just as surely, there are reasons.
What ever could be the difference? Why is it fashionably controversial to question long received wisdom in certain touchy domains of human experience but not with reference to the orthodox account of the fate of European Jews during the Second World War?
I don't think there is a simple answer. I certainly don't think the special treatment of Holocaust heresy signals a crude symptom of Jewish cultural influence, although that's part of it. I don't think the funk of anti-Semitism explains enough, either. It's a serious put-off, but degrees of separation are more apt to beg the same first order questions. I don't think it's because revisionist arguments are too preposterous to merit a response, as Deborah Lipstadt asserts. To the contrary, it seems clear, if not immediately obvious, that orthodox historians have long and quietly struggled with the problems their marginalized critics have identified and amplified. Walter Laqueur struggled with the problem of secrecy. Ernst Nolte threw up his arms. Finkelstein dances a mite too close. And David Irving wasn't always a sieg hieling pariah.
Nor do I think it's because revisionist arguments are but an insidious ruse for those whose real intention is to "whitewash" National Socialism, or to recussitate the awful sleeping beast. This one comes up everywhere, but I know first-hand that Holocaust skeptics are a motley crew. The lesser lights may have a soft spot for Brownshirt regalia and Third Reich apologetics. It's no surprise that such unseemly nostalgia would lead the bristling misfits to a dissident line that's already cast. But the outlaw historians with whom I've corresponded are mostly libertarians and lefties. Not that it should even matter, but the blanket imputation of motive is best understood as a wishful smear.
Perhaps you'll tell me it comes down to grounded suspicion, or trust — an economic bow to the consensus scorecard. A kind of default appeal to bookie's odds. Fair enough. I actually like this idea very much. I think it's surely part of the story as well. Despite my lack of relevant expertise, I don't expect that Peter Duesberg stands to be vindicated. And while I don't know for climatology, I think the earth is probably getting warmer due to human conduct, just as the experts have it. The difference is, HIV skeptics and global warming naysayers are published in real journals; they write books bearing the imprint of respected publishing houses. They enjoy equal access to the evidence. Serious people wrestle with their arguments and data and respond in kind, in the manner of open, albeit acrimonious, debate. Most importantly, their words are not criminal. Their speech is not proscribed or profoundly stigmatized. Only revisionists (and a handful of pornographers, I suppose) fall afoul of laws in the post-Enlightenment Western word. In the world of academia, gas-chamber skeptics remain personae-non-grata. When a public person so much as repeats a suspiciously flavored morsel, he faces the gauntlet. Just ask Bishop Williamson, or Fred Leuchter. Stephen Colbert is ready with a line. Because there are lines.
I said it's complicated. I'm sure it is. In many ways, at many nuanced layers. But there is one reduction that intrudes with seductive parsimony.
I think the taboo is at base a kind of fad.
Fads encroach at the periphery, almost hypnotically. You wake up with the knowledge that you're supposed to wear your hair a certain way, or drive a certain style of automobile, or ride a bike. You scour the baby name books and end up calling the kid Molly or Finneas. Or — you sense, somehow, that you're supposed to believe something, to the exclusion of something else, perhaps in a certain subtle way. The clever ginks call it signaling, or performance.
Used to be, hardwood floors were considered drab and austere — and not in a good way. Now, for some fucking reason they'll try to explain, Christian Lander's outed White People rip up the carpet and celebrate over timeworn planks. Ever get a tune stuck in your head? Adopt and nurse a useless opinion? When did you start using the term "gob-smacking"? When did you decide to buckle up? Where you persuaded by evidence? Remember SARS? Trudi Chase? Cruise ship illness? Killer bees? Smoking in restaurants? Routine tonsillectomies? Nervous breakdowns? Smash-up derbies? Flagpole sitting?
Times change. People forget.
Sensibility and Doubt
To me, it collapses to the Satanic abuse panic, so easily washed from our consciousness. In the cultural mire, the collective bloodlust didn't pre
sent as hysteria. It never does. What happened was, mother Oprah dutifully educated a mass audience as to the lurid details of a vast Sadeian conspiracy that played out right under our noses. There were astronomical statistics parroted by confident experts, and there was the testimony of the children — the CHILDREN! — and of the cops who saw it all with their own jaded eyes. Anatomical raggedy dolls filtered through an insidious memetic storyboard. Backbrain fantasies were subtly sublimated, given license in the form of blot-reading "naked movie star" verisimilitude.
Because the beast needed feeding. Soon you looked at those grainy milk carton kidfaces and imposed the only backstory that a culture allowed. According to the script you'd been handed, piece by piece. Germinal lies, or mistakes, were necessary but not sufficient. Overzealous prosecutors and opportunistic post-Freudian charlatans stirred the vat, but they were really just pawns in a larger scheme that would never trace to a clean design. What was required was a culture of belief, pitched in the language of righteous urgency, and justified, crucially, by the resurgent and enduringly stupid notion of pure metaphysical Evil. The Frontline expose's came much later, after the spell had lifted. Fads fade. Sometimes it takes a while. But they really did go digging for tunnels, didn't they? Innocent people were put in jail.
The mechanisms are complex. What I'm saying is simple enough. Kelly Michaels could have been Ilsa Koch.
N-rays never were, but scientists saw them clearly. Facilitated communication was a sham, propped up by the earnest, believing wish of the most well-intentioned people. Gulf War Syndrome was culture-bound psychosomosis, and Rorschach blots turn out to mean nothing. Charles Mackay wouldn't be surprised.
But Nigerian yellowcake was a lie, wasn't it? Like those bullshit stories about Kuwaiti babies being plucked from incubators by Evil Iraqis. And weapons of mass destruction? Well, the ones in Iraq didn't exist. But the ones at Auschwitz, we are assured, were the genuine article. You believe it. Because you believe it. For the same reason you cultivated a preference for charming hardwood patina. Some fads become resonant social signals, tethered to a short memetic fuse. But the best ones burn into myths, weighted with the aura of the sacred. Like the one about a rebel Jew, dying for your sins. Like the one about a homeland. I still wonder if Dalyrymple was stifling a Straussian wink when he observed that Intellecuals Like Genocide. Esoterica should never be so obvious.
You call it like you see it. But what you see, and what you don't see — that's another matter.
– Kyle Broflovski, fictional character
Could the cryptocracy have orchestrated the 9-11 spectacle, right before our lying eyes? Could such a vast conspiracy have been hatched and executed with labyrinthine precision by the same boobs who couldn't be bothered to fabricate WMDs in a vanquished state when the chips were down? By George Bush's sinister puppeteers? Go ahead and snow me with your webumentaries, Truthers. I'll look and listen like a good student. Hit me with your most seismic cui bono epiphany. Connect the dots for me. We'll have a nice chat and I'll disspaoint you with my best Kyle Broflovski.
It just doesn't happen that way. Someone would talk. There would be a budget. There would be hard evidence, not suggestive traces. Neocons are assholes, not warlocks.
Say you get to the part where John Mack signs off on Strieberland stories about weird creatures shoving weird devices up those poor closeted goblin-abducted asses, and you are amused. But when Raul Hilberg cites Jankiel Wiernik's lurid tale of shit-grinning Nazis drinking and dancing like wicked Dionysians amid piles of stinking burning Jewish kindling corpses (the ladies burned faster, you'll recall). Well, not so funny.
I'm not quick to call a man a liar. I try to respect those who believe what I doubt and those who doubt what I believe. But I know a shit story when I hear one. Abduction narratives are at least delusional. 9-11 Truth is a mad gestalt. And the early Nazi genocide memoirs read like midrashim. Or Sadeian pastiches. Or bullshit. One genre is risible. Another other is hallowed. Both reduce to the same baloney. There was a cottage industry of this crap in the seventies. Nowadays, publishers are more careful, even if Elie Wiesel cites a grandfather clause.
During the First World War, there were meticulously detailed atrocity stories about how the deviously industrious Germans used the corpses of their own felled soldiers to make soap in factories. The stories were dutifully reported in major newspapers. They were lies. They were propaganda, most likely cooked up by British intelligence operatives and fermented in a culture of belief — a culture that needed, as always, to justify the horrors of war. Business as usual. But when a newly tweaked version of the soap opera was cooked up by the Soviets and "proven" at Nuremberg, people believed it all over again. It wasn't until the 1980s that serious Holocaust historians, the ones you trust, began to disavow the stories about human soap (and human lampshades), though no one seems to be able to point to a careful debunking. When you try to find out what, precisely, led the Yad Vashem barkers to declare the stories "thoroughly investigated" and discredited (or "mistaken," as Micheal Shermer insists), you hit a dead end. It's appears simply to be something that serious people once believed but no longer do. Of course, most people still believe the all of it. They've seen the films. They've heard the stories. So have I.
You hear a lot about how Holocaust denial is just like 9-11 hoax lore. The ostensible link is largely enabled by web-skulking sideliners who have their own bad reasons. But the common analogy is a bad one. It's ass-backwards, as I see it. This isn't to say there isn't a more salient, if less convenient, epistemological nexus to be delineated. That one is easy enough to articulate:
It just doesn't happen that way. Someone would talk. There would be a budget. There would be hard evidence, not suggestive traces. The Nazis were assholes, not warlocks.
Here is Paul Grubach's concise explanation of why he is a Holocaust revisionist.
I think this is a pretty good bookmark summary of the strong revisionist/denialist view. In barest strokes, it outlines content of an idea that gets people thrown in jail. Think about that the next time you link to another bravely rendered Muhammad cartoon.
I don't know what Kyle Broflovski would say, but I don't think Grubach's position is crazy or hateful or wrong. My betting hunch is that it's probably more or less accurate. If you allow that the demographic problem is confoundingly slippery, it's not far from a prima facie reading of available evidence. The problem is that the standard Holocaust narrative is itself a story of a vast conspiracy carried out in total secrecy and orchestrated by mendacious Nazi g-men who took fastidious care to cover their tracks at every possible turn. That's the story. That's the problem.
Revisionists are fond of citing a passage from "functionalist" Holocaust historian Arno Mayer's Why Did the Heavens Not Darken. I've discussed it previously. Time being finite, I'll crib from the archive. Goes like this:
Sources for the study of the gas chambers are at once rare and unreliable. Even though Hitler and the Nazis made no secret of their war of the Jews, the SS operatives dutifully eliminated all traces of their murderous activities and instruments. No written orders for gassing have turned up thus far.
Having duly noted that there is in fact little to no reliable trace evidence to confirm the existence of the Nazis' primary murder weapon (which may seem a bit odd to the most people who assume the whole sordid business to be so well documented as to render revisionist skepticism absurd), Mayer goes on:
Most of what is known is based on the depositions of Nazi officials and executioners at postwar trials and on the memory of survivors and bystanders. This testimony must be screened carefully, since it can be influenced by subjective factors of great complexity.
And then, a few sentences later:
…there is no denying the many contradictions, ambiguities, and errors in the existing sources. These cannot be ignored, although it must be emphasized strongly that such defects are altogether insufficient to put in question the use of gas chambers in the murder of Jews at Auschwitz. Much the same is true for the conflicting estimates and extrapolations of the number of victims since there are no reliable statistics to work with.
This is what it comes down to. A question of whether the wholesale absence of clear-cut documentary and physical evidence for a monstrous crime can be construed as sufficient grounds for questioning whether and how the alleged crime took place. Answer in the negative and everything will be fine. Answer in the positive and if you have the wrong postal code you may get your ass thrown in jail. I may be oversimplifying, but not by much.
There is a psychic intersection where sensibility confronts an epistemological endgame. You have a range of choices, not all of them honest. Textbook dissonance isn't quite the crux of it. Culture and emotion entail special gravity. The mind recoils. The moral weight is too grave, too intrusive, too urgent; larger than you. It's there in the literature you read in high school, an extra-rational dimension that doesn't yield to practiced scrutiny. Merely to relinquish certainty, to simply declare "I don't know," feels like a trap, or a transgression. Someone makes a joke, and you laugh. No point in defining what's sufficient.
In his little-read essay, "Wilkomirski and What it Means," America's foremost Holocaust revisionist, Arthur Butz, takes a novel pass at illuminating the predicament. He asks:
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?
It's not a rhetorical question. "For one thing," Butz writes (and I agree), "it is not simple." With specific reference to the "Wilkomirski affair," which centered on the hand-wrung aftermath following one of many known frauds in the annals of Holocaust literature, Butz corners a paradox:
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.
The Great Question of Belief
Do I believe the Nazis implemented a plan to systematically exterminate the Jewish people using gas chambers and gas vans and the rest of it?
I'll spare you the long version this time. No, I don't believe it.
More on point, I don't think it has been demonstrated. I think the consensus history amounts to what skeptics like to refer to as an extraordinary claim. The truism is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A passing glance at any Holocaust studies course syllabus will underscore the problem. The matter is nothing if not extraordinary. The moral questions dwell on the singular problem of understanding that which defies comprehension, of grasping for embers of meaning and hope in the darkest contours of an episode that remains almost preternatural in its scale and enormity. Evil with a secular gloss. There is the seduction of ineffable verities, garbed as history.
But taboo is just a guarded moat, and it's shallow. When proof is lacking and evidence is scant, doubt is reasonable. Belief is not. I think that's the case with the gas chamber/genocide/six-million business. I think it's an extraordinary claim without much meat.
It hardly matters at this stage, but not believing is not the same as denying. It's a semantic or relativist issue that no longer interests me. Parse it however. What is known to have happened is bad enough. People suffered immeasurably. There are real lessons. But the story we've been handed, in weft and weave and detail, is in large measure preposterous. A grisly folk tale branded as an immovable truth.
It may turn out that rogue gassings occurred somewhere. I wouldn't be surprised. I don't doubt that the SS police units went medieval now and again, as all testosterone-addled soldier boys will in times of war and shame on them. The Nazi "euthanasia" program was real enough. But it defies credulity to believe that hundreds of thousands — or millions, depending on your source — of people could be marched to certain death in a steady queue day after day after day while others were being treated in camp hospitals on the same fucking grounds. At a most superficial level, the priority makes little sense in the context of a desparate war.
I think it's far more credible to imagine that unjustly declared enemies were deported to labor camps where the harsh reality of illness and the overwhelming stench and presence of death combined with the indignity of circumstance to germinate a culture of fateful suspicion. People were removed from their families and forced to work, for fuck sake. That's bad. In the confused atmosphere of total war, food blockades led to starvation. Infrastructural collapse made things worse. Lice-borne diseases made things yet far worse.
I think the Holocaust story was born in the fog of war and war-enabled pestilence. Confusion and fear and horrorshow beget tales, rumors, and lies. Belief is bred and nursed in the direst human predicament and later reinforced through black propaganda, through intertextually facilitated confabulation, through torture-derived confessions, and Sykewar disinformation. In the wake of Soviet-spun sham trials, and war-fevered newsreel images, and Life magazine atrocity spreads, and pulp-fiction, only one story was made to sell. Much like with the abduction narratives. Much like with those preschool witch-trials, or Salem back when. It's a buyer's market.
I'm not a historian. I don't have an agenda. I have no animus toward Jews. It simply makes more sense to me that there wasn't a genocide in the sense the story demands. It fits with the world I've come to know, which is bad enough without embellishment. I could be wrong about any of it. But I am not wrong to doubt what I do not believe.
Treblinka is Crazy
There's no need to get stuck on poor Abe Bomba the barber dutifully snip-snip-snipping the locks of bedoomed and dunuded dames in impossibly cramped gas chambers rooms, all between the swift, filthy business of killing. Or Elie Wiesel's science-defying "geysers of blood." If you believe such fables, you'll believe anything. Curl up with a stack of dogeared stalags and sleep tight.
You can stick to to the big stuff. Like Treblinka, writ large.
In its broader substance, the received account of what went down at Treblinka remains surreal in its absurdity. We're told that some 750,000 to 925,000 bodies were gassed using inefficient if not impossible machinery in moronically designed facilities over a short span of months. The story goes that the bodies were buried in massive pits then later dug up to be burned in makeshift pyres when word came that the Russkies were advancing.
There are gaping problems with every sordid postwar-testimony-based element of this tale. To begin with, there are problems with the means and method of introducing poison gas with diesel engines from Soviet tanks, a method terribly suited to the task of killing anyone, much less for mass murder on a nearly inconceivable scale. There are problems with the timeline and with the pace and force of labor necessitated for such ghastly work, weather permitting. And even when you plug in the most liberal assumptions (as Denierbud does here), there simply wouldn't have been enough space for all those burial pits. The math isn't difficult. And it's not even close.
But if you prefer to begin with the assumption that it must be true, you're left with a second problem that doesn't rest. There would still be evidence. Big time. There would be gross signs of sedimentary disturbance, for one thing. There would also be massive amounts of ash and bone and teeth and even incriminating chemical residues to be unearthed. You can't bury and burn the population of a major American city without leaving some serious forensic clues behind. So why is no one looking? Honestly, I can't think of anything that would shut the deniers up more soundly. If you need an incentive, word is there's even a James Randi style reward on the table. It should be simple enough to do the excavation. Just grab a shovel and go. And while you're at it, why not check out the other Reinhard death camps where the same MO is alleged?
Of course you'll need to apply for a grant and fill out the paperwork. And you'll surely have to explain your reasons — reasons which may be deemed illegal. If that's too much hassle, why not send a note to Penn & Teller? Maybe they're hard up for fresh Bullshit material. Or perhaps the professional geeks at Mythbusters would be up for the challenge? Adam and Jamie could lay waste to the deniers and their desperate negationist obfuscation once and for all. They'd be heroes, wouldn't they?
The Incredible Shrinking Auschwitz Genocide
Way back in the 80s,
there was this socially inept, uncredentialed, patent-collecting execution equipment technician named Fred Leuchter who was asked at the behest of a man facing a prison sentence to investigate the forensic evidence for homicidal gassings at Auschwitz. Leuchter naively agreed to have a look-see. What he did was, he took samples from walls of the "reconstructed" Krema I killing room, the one tourists are shown as the coup de grace, and which, at least until recently, was passed off as the genuine article. He also took samples from the remnants of the ostensible killing chambers at Birkenau, where the dirty work is implausibly said to have later been relocated to avoid prying eyes. Leuchter sent the samples to a reputable lab to be analyzed for hydro-cyanic residue using a control brick sample from the camp's still-standing complex of delousing facilities where the stuff was in regular use as a pesticide, as evidenced by the blue staining you've heard about.
He came up with snot. The control sample was literally off the chart, but the homicidal gas chamber samples bore only minute traces of cyanide, traces which would seem to be plausibly explained by the undisputed fact that Zykon-B was also used for routine disinfection purposes in most structures at the Auschwitz-Birkenau main camp. Leuchter concluded that the buildings designated as homicidal gas chambers could not have been homicidal gas chambers. When he went public with his now infamous Report, his career was ruined, and Errol Morris was intrigued. Perhaps you've seen the movie. I still don't think Fred saw what was coming.
In 1991 it came to light that researchers at the Jan Sehn Institute in Krakow had conducted a similar forensic study under the auspices of the Auschwitz Museum. When an early draft of the JSI team's initial findings was leaked (purportedly by an Auschwitz Museum employee sympathetic to revisionism) the results seemed to corroborate Leuchter's findings inasmuch as they found almost no appreciable traces of cyanide residue in the alleged homicidal structures. This information was reported in the revisionist Journal of Historical Review.
Several years later the same team, led by Prof. Jan Markiewicz, produced a revised report, which curiously omitted reference to their previous inconveniently leaked results. This later report is now most often cited as a definitive refutation of Luechter's conclusions. However, for reasons that I think are fishy, if not fraudulent, the second report adopted a very different methodology than the straightforward one employed by Leuchter. Most significantly, the researchers chose to exclude from their analysis Prussian blue iron cyanide samples from the delousing chambers that Leuchter had used as his control. They also used a non-standard method of measuring cyanide traces. In responding to the 1994 JSI report, forensically-driven revisionists have expended no shortage of ink and energy arguing that the methodology had no scientific basis and was adopted to stack the deck in favor of their desired results. The revisionists have other criticisms. You can read about them here. And you can read the JSI results here. And you can read the original "Leuchter Report" here.
That's not the end of it. Around the same time that the Polish scientists were retooling Leuchter's chemical metrics, a chemist named Germar Rudolf was conducting his own post-Leuchter research, which resulted in a book-length report that probably stands as the most extensive forensic analysis of the alleged Auschwitz gas chamber chemistry to date. Rudolf's meticulous-even-if-erroneous research essentially confirmed Leuchter's arguably crude results, although his conclusions were less preclusive than Leuchter's (Rudolf did not rule out the possibility that the imputed structures could conceivably have been used for homicidal purposes; he merely concluded that any such usage would have occurred at a rate radically less frequent than anything imagined in the conventional accounts provided by eyewitnesses, postwar deponents, and traditional Holocaust historians).
For his curiosity, Rudolf was prohibited from competing his doctoral dissertation at the world-renowned Max Planck Institute. Later, he was deported from the United States where he had sought political asylum and he was thrown in a German cell for writing about chemistry.
In the wake and midst of all this weird chemistry, defenders of the Auschwitz genocide story have come forth with explanations for what might seem to unsophisticated eyes like a big problem. Jean Claude Pressac was the first in line. The French pharmacist authored an imposing coffee table tome entitled Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, which was published by the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation. In it, he tried to resolve the seeming inconsistencies by asserting, inter alia, that the amount of Zyklon-B pellets used for killing humans turned out to be much smaller than anyone might have suspected — certainly much smaller than the amount used for killing pests. Somehow the Nazis figured it all out. He also asserted that the killings were far, far less frequent than had been previously asserted, claiming said that only small doses of the stuff were needed to kill however many people (and he revised the latter number down dramatically) on a none-too regimented schedule. While Pressac noted "an absence of any 'direct,' i.e. palpable, indisputable, and evident proof of homicidal gas chambers," he claimed that a trained reading of relevant documents revealed a trail of telltale "criminal traces," which , if you squinted, would coalesce into an adumbration of a shadow of a genocide.
Later, in the middling 90s, the professional debunker Michael Shermer took a derivative shot at diffusing revisionist arguments in the pages of the excellent Skeptic magazine. Banking off Pressac's lead, he presented his thesis that, despite some valid revisionist nitpicking, a "convergence of evidence" strongly supported the established master thesis. Robert Jan van Pelt says something similar now, sometimes in court.
So. As best I can determine, the currently accepted line holds that upwards of 95% of Zyklon-B shipped to Auschwitz was used for the label-intended purpose of killing lice to prevent the spread of disease. That was Pressac's conclusion, and it was good enough for Deborah Lipstadt. Revisionists argue that shipments of the pesticidal pellets to Auschwitz were not proportionately higher than shipments to other camps where no homicidal gas chambers are claimed to have been in operation, a point which is disputed by van Pelt, their most credible foil. Revisionists further contend that the Auschwitz crematoria were physically incapable of toast
ing human flesh at anywhere near the rate imagined by all orthodox accounts, and this point is disputed, too — most notably by John C. Zimmerman in his essay "Body Disposal at Auschwitz: The End of Holocaust Denial," which is in turn counter-disputed, most notably by an Italian revisionist cremation-tech point man who uses too many exclamation points.
However the details are sliced, there is no longer any real doubt that the vast bulk of the infamous bug spray was not used to kill human beings. The debate is over a fraction, and of the forensic studies conducted to date, only one claims to support the extermination thesis. When you wade into the vicissitudes of argot-laden disceptation, is easy to become exasperated. It's easy to lose sight of what is plainly significant; if you didn't know what you know, the dual role of the Zyklon-B would be cause for pause.
I'm sure those ominous mounds of expended Zyklon-B canisters are still displayed behind a glass on the official Auschwitz visitor's tour. I wonder whether the guides bother to tell onlookers that at least damn near all of the reputed WMD was used on mattresses and clothing for pesticidal, not homicidal, purposes? I wonder if they even know. The cynic's money says no. Complicated stories are less interesting. They don't sell.
Another Bad Analogy
As a convinced atheist who once took a passing interest in the Creationist debate, I think I have an idea of what post-hoc reasoning looks like. Let's be clear about this much. The revisionists were there first. They used reputable labs to analyze the samples using traditional methods. They used what strike me as reasonable and controls and they drew what strike me as reasonable conclusions. They found what they had hypothesized. Science is never finished, but the explainers had explaining to do. And after a suspicious false start, they got around to it. Defense portrayed as offense.
When the fossil record doesn't seem to jibe with biblical inerrancy, what's a believer to do? Depends on how committed he is to his precious scriptural narrative. It depends on how clever he is, and perhaps whether there is a book deal in the offing. It might depend on who his employer happens to be. But mostly, it depends on what he believes and why. Duesberg is wedded to a bad idea. Michael Behe keeps shifting his deck just enough to please the choir. And the 9-11 Truthers are programmed to see the shadows of dark conspiracy in every pore of Dick Cheney's crooked sneering mug. What makes you so sure that Michael Shermer and those thought-patrolling Nizkor scholars couldn't be so deceived?
I realize it's a swamp. The literature has grown to immensity, and much of it is simply beyond my ken. Yours too, I suspect. I don't know enough to know, but I know enough not to believe. I have a hunch, just like you. Some people still obsess over the tunnels at the McMartin preschool. They insist they were real. They keep looking for evidence, for "criminal traces." These people have their own slideshows and websites and forensic reports meant to reveal a massive cover-up. They are invested in a corrupt story. When you absolutely know what happened, the natural human tendency is to force the pieces to fit. Me, I don't know what happened. I only know when the pieces don't easily fit. A surface reading tells me it's more likely that the Auschwitz-genocide story does not fit the forensics, does not fit with a straightforward reading of facts, does not fit with human nature. Look at Raymond Buckey. Look at Heinrich Himmler. What do you see?
A crime so vast shouldn't produce such confounding puzzles. No one argues that slavery is a myth, though the trope is a familiar straw-man. I think I know the simplest explanation. The one Occam — or maybe Kyle — would prefer. I may be wrong.
A while back there was some buzz about recently uncovered documentary evidence of Auschwitz gas chambers. Blueprints found in an apartment in Berlin, or something. It didn't pan out. You follow the debate, such as it is, with half an eye and you get used to this shit. Honestly, those Russian archives should have nailed it by now. Instead, they've produced death books, once said to have been destroyed. Nazi logs documenting the deaths of thousands including oldsters — surely unfit for labor — in camp infirmaries, due to illnesses for which they were being treated. It doesn't fit the narrative, but don't worry. The pieces will always bend.
Zoom back a bit.
There are still no blueprints of homicidal gas chambers from any Nazi camp. But there are volumes of architectural documents for the crematoria as well as for innocuous structures, which we are told must be read like esoteric grimoires. Faurisson's problem, remains a problem.
The Soviets told whoppers at Nuremberg. They blamed the Nazis for the Katyn massacre. They produced sham evidence of shrunken heads and human soap and human lampshades and they claimed that Nazis killed people with all sorts of sadistic contraptions that aren't much mentioned anymore. They also claimed that four million people were murdered at Auschwitz alone. That figure was repeated for decades. Then it was revised down to around a million plus, and may have since been dropped by a few hundred K, depending on your source. That's at least three million bodies — the population of Chicago — returned to life.
Then you have the Dachau "gas chamber," which was probably a phony, just like in that Beck song. Or maybe it was another delouser. Whatever it was, it was never used for anything, despite what the early newsreels claimed. Doesn't stop the same Auschwitz-flavored survivor stories from attaching.
Anne Frank died of Typhus at Bergen-Belsen, after a stint at Auschwitz, where the Nazis by all conventional expectations should have snuffed her, being that she was a verminous Jewish child, frail and ill-suited for saving labor.
Rudolf Höss was almost certainly tortured, or at least someone thought to brag about it. There's good reason to believe other Nazi war criminals were tortured in captivity as well. We know something about confessions obtained under "refined interrogation techniques," don't we? Postwar life wasn't so sweet for Eichmann, either — after he was nabbed.
A straightforward reading of "Final Solution" is consonant with deportation. A clear-cut order remains elusive. Instead you get cryptics and codes, topped off with a few disparate strands of inflamed rhetoric, anti-Semitic vitriol tucked in a memoir here and meeting there, any example of which is easily met by Winston Churchill's bloodlusting gin-fueled vituperation. The Wansee minutes are ambiguous.
Delousing rooms are as real
as the Auschwitz swimming pool.
Night and Fog images pack a visceral punch. They document a catastrophe, not a genocide.
Gas-tight doors where commonplace in air raid shelters and morgues. Peepholes too.
And the eyewitness stories, well, they have a curious history. As we shall see.
Faced with Mayer's dilemma, the orthodox are left to seek traces, which they invariably find. The traces are then displayed to those who crave assurance, who won't bother checking against a vilified opposition, as irrefutable proof of something uniquely awful in it's shrouded monstrous enormity. It's a matter of convergence, like with the cross-cultural deluge narratives I remember from the fundie pamphets.
Please do this much. Watch David Cole's documentary at the bottom left of this page, if only to admire the kid's balls while you scoff. Then read Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman's treatment of the same documentary in Denying History. Tell me who's not being honest.
In his underground movie, Cole states the core problem simply:
Is this true? Tell me where it's not. And tell me what it is, precisely, that I am supposed to believe? And why?
14 thoughts on “Me and the H-Bomb, Part One: Kyle Broflovski and the Gas Chambers”
14 days and only silence.
I’m starting to think you may be right.
But it seems, alas, that even if the gas chambers are a hoax, the essence of the legend is true:
It is clear that there was a euthanasia program, administered by Brack. It is clear that Jews who were incapable of working were envisioned as being euthanized.
I’ve always considered the holocaust stories to be generally accurate; at least, as far as I knew about the details. But, wait a sec…I actually know almost nothing about the holocaust, and I’m talking about the holocaust as portrayed by the true believers. I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make here. The ‘fact’ of the holocaust is a cultural given, saturating the landscape in such a way that ANY claim supporting the idea IS FACT, with a period. Most of us are passive believers, but even passivity has mass, and that grants a lot of leverage to those who make it their business to be proponents. For the majority of folks, holocaust belief is like the Pope to most Western Catholics. Most don’t give a fuck about what he has to say, but step on his hat, and they’ll rip you to shreds.
Kudos on the Facilitated Communications and McMartin Preschool mentions. I was a talk radio addict back in those days, and the day to day bullshit I heard still haunts me. I wrote a little about them on my anti-apologetics blog here and here Unadorned truth is a rare commodity; whatever the ultimate truth is about the fate of six million Jews, I’m sure it’s not correspondingly synonymous with its gift wrapping.
Finally, I’m with you on the idea that taboos MUST be questioned…always. If not by you, or me, for god’s sake by somebody! Thought suppression is for sissies.
Hm, my links didn’t come through. Oh well, you know where to find me.
Thanks, Jim. Well said. I may be getting my hands dirty at the moment, but the real issue is intellectual freedom and that is never forgotten.
The preschool hysteria made an deep impression on me as well. Obviously. For those of us who sensed that something was very wrong, it was nearly maddening to watch it play out. It was that subject, more than anything, that led me to a rethink on the other subject. I seem to be pretty much alone in this.
I think some elements of the broader genocide narrative may have crystallized with the T-4 (euthanasia) program. For some relevant discussion from a sane revisionist perspective, see Crowell’s Gas Chamber of Sherlock Holmes — particularly the discussion beginning at page 71:
Also, see the note on p. 381.
Crowell’s argument is that while there was indeed a euthanasia program in place prior to claims of mass gassing at the camps, that these killings were primarily carried out through lethal injections and possibly CO gas at hospitals. He contends that the the more lurid claims (about T-4 victims being gassed in chambers and vans, or blown up) are derived from postwar testimony retrofitted to match with subsequent genocide stories (which may in turn have been influenced by the reality of the euthanasia program). It’s a neat idea.
Part two of my series will be largely focused on Crowell’s monograph, by the way.
It seems like pages like this are the only places to read something honest. The people that for some reason or another question the accuracy of the holocaust story have nothing to gain in terms of wealth or popularity. Schindler’s List made me sick and sad when I was a kid watching it. Knowing who the enemy was, and that ‘we’ beat him made us all feel good. This scenario has played itself out again and again over history. It’s only when we are within the scenario that it seems too real to doubt.
I guess my family, which consisted of over 42 members in one city in Poland and ended up with 2 alive after the war made up the majority of the 200 or 300 dead Jews you imagine really died instead of 6 million. In 1939 there were 19 million Jews in the world. In 2009, after 70 years, there are again 19 million Jews in the world. Did we go from 13 million to 19 million in 7 decades or do you really believe we went from 18.9 Million to 19 million during those years?
I’m sorry about your family, whatever happened to them. War is just fucking awful.
The demographic question is immensely complex and well beyond my ken. Eastern Europe is a vast expanse, and in the fog of war there was mass emigration and displacement, and death. I do think it is understood now that references to the “six million” figure predate the alleged system of Nazi genocide, which is not to minimize the destruction of community and great loss of life that I do not for a moment doubt. I don’t know how many Jewish lives were lost during the war, nor am I informed to guess. I know that it was tragic.
But the point of my curiosity concerns mens rea, and more specifically the alleged use of homicidal gas chambers to carry out a plan of extermination. I think the gas chamber stories are fishy from the start. I think they are likely the stuff of rumor and legend, arising in a particular time and place for reasons that are contextually understandable. In my next post, I will try to explain why I have come to doubt what you believe.
Yeah well, why would the Tulsa German Historical society use the website:” gastulsa.com” do they think they’re funny or what…i’ve got some gas for those nazis
very interesting and very well said…i agree almost completely though i don’t know many of the names you use in reference – both pro and con? – and only differ in treatment of some of the examples given…indeed, the satanic-child abuse frenzy was absolutely mind boggling but despite all the people swept up in that craze it was never criminal to doubt the stories nor were they taught in schools for more than a generation, venerated in films both fiction and alleged factual documentary, etc….the holocaust religion is about as powerful as christianity was professed to be in ages past, complete with heresy trials and ruined if not ended lives of doubters…i wrote an essay on the subject a few years ago ( the holocaust, palestine and israel: revision, denial and myth) and would be glad to share it with you, if you wish… thank you for this piece and i look forward to the rest!
Frank Scott writes political commentary which appears in print in the Coastal Post and The Independent Monitor and online at the blogspot: Legalienate
What sort of Truth is it that crushes the freedom to seek the truth?
Amazon’s new book, Debating the Holocaust: A New Look at Both Sides By Thomas Dalton
In this remarkable, balanced book, the author skillfully reviews and compares “traditional” and “revisionist” views on the “The Holocaust.” On one side is the traditional, orthodox view — six million Jewish casualties, gas chambers, cremation ovens, mass graves, and thousands of witnesses. On the other is the view of a small band of skeptical writers and researchers, often unfairly labeled “deniers,” who contend that the public has been gravely misled about this emotion-laden chapter of history.
The author establishes that the arguments and findings of revisionist scholars are substantive, and deserve serious consideration. He points out, for example, that even the eminent Jewish Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg acknowledged that there was no budget, plan or order by Hitler for a World War II program to exterminate Europe’s Jews.
This book is especially relevant right now, as “Holocaust deniers” are routinely and harshly punished for their “blasphemy,” and as growing numbers of people regard the standard, Hollywoodized “Holocaust” narrative with mounting suspicion and distrust. The author of this book, who writes under the pen name of “Thomas Dalton,” is an American scholar who holds a doctoral degree from a major US university.
This is no peripheral debate between arcane views of some obscure aspect of twentieth century history. Instead, this is a clash with profound social-political implications regarding freedom of speech and press, the manipulation of public opinion, how our cultural life is shaped, and how power is wielded in our society.
I wish to express my outrage that the Holocaust, unlike any other historical event, is not subject to critical examination. Furthermore I deplore the fact that many so-called democratic states have laws that criminalize an examination and understanding of the Holocaust. It is my position that the veracity of Holocaust assertions should be determined in the marketplace of scholarly discourse and not in our legislatures bodies and courthouses.
Call anytime: 917-974-6367
Chip Smith is a gifted writer, and I for one cannot wait for his next installments in this series. That said, he draws the wrong parallel to the 911 Truth movement. In the first place he mischaracterizes it… to him 911 Truth is a positive conspiracy theory, positing certain actors inside the US government as the culprits. While there are certainly some in the 911 Truth movement who make this claim, the essence of the 911 Truth movement consists of no positive claims at all about who was responsible. It is in fact a scientific refutation of the conspiracy theory promoted by the government itself: that 19 Arabs armed with only boxcutters hijacked four airliners, three of which crashed into high profile buildings and caused the damage to the Pentagon, and the collapse of 3 or 4 skyscrapers in New York (and that empty hole somewhere in Pennsylvania). On the surface, there is even less evidence to support the government’s claims about 911 than there is to support the traditional Holocaust story. Yet for all his skepticism about the latter, Chip Smith essentially gets sucked into the same sort of taboo in the former that he so assiduously assails in the latter. Go figure. To each his own taboo, I guess, but this article would be much better sans the attack on the 911 Truth movement, which is actually, as a historical revisionist entity, a kindred spirit of the Holocaust revisionists, to the extent that either remains “positivist” and scientific. Just the facts ma’am.
For those of you who are interested, Part Two is posted here:
I agree that Christian persecution in many respects provides a highly relevant historical analogy. I focus on the SRA episode in part because it has special resonance to the contemporary imagination, being something that most of us lived through. It may also be relevant that the delusional beliefs of SRA proponents have graduated into religious dogma, at least at the margins. In the book, “Outbreak! An Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior,” Hilary Evans and Robert Bartholomew make the following observation:
“Social delusions differ from religious myths and popular folk beliefs in that they occur in unorganized, spontaneous fashion, although at some later time social delusions may become institutionalized. For example, some church groups have incorporated into their teachings claims that thousands of satanic child cult sacrifices take place every year. You could not say that members of such groups are psychotic or delusional in the psychiatric sense. Rather, they are likely to be comprised of normal persons who have acquired a view of the world that differs from that of the mainstream.”
Your comment is very helpful and I promise to address your points carefully in the third installment of this series, which is largely informed by reader comments and correspondence. Thanks.
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